Thursday, 29 October 2020

Airfield to relocate despite gaining protected status

AN airfield near Woodcote will have to relocate despite being granted protected status by South Oxfordshire District Council.

Chiltern Park Aerodrome, which was founded by Dennis and Julie Pearson in 1988, has been recognised as an asset of community value after more than 300 residents supported the couple’s application.

It is only the second airfield in Britain to achieve the honour.

However, this doesn’t prevent the landowner from evicting the couple, who were given notice in June and are now in negotiations to extend their stay as they were supposed to have left last month.

The airfield’s new status means that the landlord can’t sell the land off Icknield Road before giving the community six months in which to make an offer, although there is no obligation to accept a bid.

It is understood that the landlord intends to keep the land for equestrian use.

The Pearsons accept they will have to leave and hope to conclude negotiations this month.

They have been offered a new site in South Oxfordshire which they believe is suitable but haven’t agreed anything yet as they would be required to apply for planning permission for a change of use.

In the meantime, they are running the business as usual, albeit at about 40 per cent capacity to comply with social distancing rules to help control coronavirus.

When the lockdown was imposed in late March the couple had to shut the airfield and furlough themselves for three months.

When the Pearsons sought community asset status from the district council in July, they asked anyone with a connection to the airfield to write in offering their support.

After considering the submissions, the council agreed that the aerodrome “contributes to and furthers the social wellbeing of the community and has the support to continue doing so”.

The aerodrome will be registered until 2025, when it would require an application for renewal.

Chiltern Park provides work for dozens of instructors and has raised at least £1.5 million for about 200 charities through sponsored skydives and wing-walks.

Mr Pearson said: “People were delighted when we announced the latest news but, sadly, it doesn’t change much.

“The landlord can still do what they like, which is a shame, but it’s great to see so much public support. The response was phenomenal, both from associations we’ve been involved with and residents.

“We’re so thankful and were gobsmacked when we saw how many people got behind us. It was at least 300 but that’s just the ones we know about because they copied us into their submissions.

“Our situation should be clearer soon but it will involve looking for a new home as the landlord is adamant that they don’t want an airfield any longer.

“They don’t have to accept a community bid and although the planners can refuse a change of use, they can’t force it to stay open as an airfield. I suppose the measures are a bit toothless.

“However, I’m a great optimist and if it’s time to move on then it’s time. There’s still light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll focus on making the best of it rather than dwelling on the negatives.”

The potential new site is on low-lying land so would not be suitable for winter use but the Pearsons say they were looking to scale back anyway.

It is also a good distance from homes or businesses and, unlike the current site, doesn’t have a road running through the middle.

Mr Pearson said: “Any site would have to suit everyone, including the neighbours as we don’t want any complaints. However, we’ve had very few complaints about this site in 32 years.”

The couple, who were married at Checkendon in 1983, launched the business after Mr Pearson tried flying a microlight aircraft. He previously ran a saw mill on the site, where he and his wife live.

The business now has up to 8,000 visitors a year with a perfect safety record and serves as a training ground for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance, Thames Valley Police, RAF Benson and Goring fire station.

It has been nicknamed “South Stoke International Airport” because of its proximity to the village.

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