Sunday, 24 October 2021

'Noise from RAF base would be too much for new homes'

NOISE from RAF Benson would be unacceptable to residents of a development nearby if it was allowed to go ahead, a public inquiry heard.

Gladman Developments wants to build up to 130 homes, of which 40 per cent would be “affordable”, on land off St Helen’s Avenue, which is west of the base.

The base is home to RAF Puma and Chinook helicopters as well the National Police Air Service, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and some light aircraft.

The inquiry, which is being heard by planning inspector Cullum Parker in Crowmarsh Gifford, comes after South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, failed to make a decision on Gladman’s outline application and the company appealed.

The council believes the site is not suitable for development due to the noise from the RAF base and the A4074.

Hugh Flanagan, for the council, told the hearing there would “significant” adverse noise from both the base and the road that could not be fully mitigated.

He said RAF Benson was a “substantial and intensively operated” facility, where training took place at all times of the day and night. There were sustained periods of aircraft hovering and circuits being made by the helicopters within a few hundred metres of the site.

Mr Flanagan said: “The council will say that forcing people to keep windows sealed shut for prolonged periods in a rural environment is obviously unsatisfactory.”

Wing Commander Donal McGurk, chief of staff at RAF Benson, said various training exercises were undertaken at the base, including flying under-slung loads, general handling, hovering and tactical flying at all hours.

Night flying usually took place from Monday and Thursday and could be until 3am during the summer. “Flying is a perishable skill and therefore requires regular training,” said Wg Cmdr McGurk.

“The training and operational flying undertaken at RAF Benson is inherently noisy. Proposed new development at this site will be susceptible to noise.”

Under questioning from Alan Evans, for Gladman, he said the Puma was perceived to be less noisy than the Chinook and that for about half the year there were no planned night flights by Chinooks.

There were loud scoffs from people in the public gallery when Mr Evans said the base published the first and last flight times on its website each week so there was an opportunity for people to plan to close their windows.

Jon Fowler, vice-chairman of Benson Parish Council, said the council was hoping to have a final version of its neighbourhood plan, which names sites to the north of the village for 320 new homes, ready by the end of summer.

The plan would help deliver an “edge road”, or bypass, around Benson but Gladman’s application would “undermine” the plan and “jeopardise” delivery of the new road.

Councillor Fowler said: “We do not need this site, which provides no benefit to the village in order to achieve our housing target. I therefore urge you to respect the neighbourhood planning process and reject this application.”

Mr Evans urged the inspector to allow the appeal.

He said: “Benson is a sustainable location for new housing in development planning terms. It’s one of a number of larger villages identified in the South Oxfordshire core strategy 2012.

“The whole site is sustainable, located within easy walking distance of the facilities and services which Benson has to offer.

“The development brings forward considerable benefits, not least in providing market housing and much-needed affordable housing as well as realising significant economic growth.

“Gladman accepts that noise issues can be satisfactorily resolved by suitable mitigation measures and that permission should not be withheld on account of noise.

“Significant adverse impacts from noise can, we say, be avoided and other adverse impacts from noise can be mitigated and reduced to a minimum so that satisfactory amenity standards can be met.”

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