Tuesday, 12 November 2019

‘Spy’ training centre to open at RAF base

‘Spy’ training centre to open at RAF base

A TRAINING centre for bodyguards, private investigators and police and military personnel is to be built on part of the former RAF Woodcote air base.

Damion Morphy, a former serviceman, has been granted planning permission for a large steel-framed barn on the field south of the B4526 at Goring Heath, near the junction with Long Toll.

South Oxfordshire District Council also approved five smaller training huts and the renovation of a disused fire station and wash block plus 32 parking bays.

Mr Morphy intends to host residential courses in self-defence, first aid, close protection and covert surveillance techniques through his firm Advanced Tactical Resources, which is based in Whitchurch Hill.

These would last up to four days and take place most weeks of the year with up to 12 students and three staff participating.

The plans were opposed by Goring Heath Parish Council, which said the barn and outbuildings were inappropriate for their rural setting and would spoil views of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural beauty.

It maintained this even after Mr Morphy reduced the proposed height of the barn from 32ft to less than 26ft.

It said there were no exceptional circumstances to allow major development in the countryside and claimed the on-site accommodation would not be used as it was unfit for purpose.

Members also claimed the business would not be viable so the applicant would eventually use the site for other purposes.

This was criticised as “uninformed opinion” by Mr Morphy’s agent, who said the parish council never invited his client to discuss the scheme. The Campaign to Protect Rural England also objected to the building’s size and the Chilterns Conservation Board argued that the facility didn’t have to be built on a rural site.

It said a public leisure facility would be more acceptable but if the scheme did go ahead it should be screened from the road by planting and measures should be taken to improve views of the site.

However, no neighbours objected and two wrote letters of support while the district council’s planning officers recommended approval.

Officers said the site had been strewn with rubbish and derelict farm equipment and had been subject to numerous enforcement investigations before Mr Morphy bought it and tidied up.

They said it was brownfield land because of the former airfield use and historically hadn’t contributed to the area’s character, while the scheme would create jobs.

They welcomed plans to re-use the traditional brick fire station and said the barn would be similar to an agricultural one.

They added the land was probably too contaminated for farming so Mr Morphy must carry out tests to ensure it is safe for his use.

The officers said: “On balance, the associated landscaping and remedial works would result in demonstrable improvements to the appearance of the site… collectively, the benefits would outweigh any harm.”

Peter Dragonetti, the village’s district councillor and parish council chairman, said he was disappointed with the decision.

He said: “The committee seemed persuaded by the fact that he has made the site tidy but that isn’t a valid planning reason. If it were, applicants could simply let a site go to ruin to help their case.”

Mr Morphy is a former army corporal who won a Queen’s Commendation for bravery in 2008.

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