THE CASE FOR CLOSING MUCH-LOVED AIRFIELD
Filton MP JACK LOPRESTI puts the case in favour of closing the town’s air field, despite the concerns of many of his own constituents
OVER the last few months the planned closure of Filton Airfield has divided some local opinion.
The announcement from BAe Systems that the airfield will shut on the last day of 2012 was sad but presents us with some great opportunities.
I understand the sentiments behind the campaign to save the airfield, it is right that we should unite as a community to recognise the legacy and huge contribution that our area has made to British aviation.
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Yet I would argue, and will set out in this article, that with the closure of the airfield we will not lose that heritage.
Locally-based, world-renowned businesses will still be at the forefront of British aviation, and local industry and jobs will remain secure.
More importantly, we will secure our young people's future through economic growth and career opportunities, partnered with education, training and inspiration from the great achievements of the past.
I cannot, as your representative in Parliament, recommend that we follow any other course in good conscience.
There are only two ways the airfield can remain in operation, either through massive public subsidy, ie taxpayer support, or a hugely increased usage on a par with a busy commercial airport, which local people have repeatedly rejected over many years.
I remember well the Campaign Against Filton Commercial Airport (CAFCA) in 1993. That campaign had an active membership of 13,000 people. The airfield has been economically unviable for years, as both BAe and Airbus have made known, and so far no potential buyers have come forward. The fact is that there is no need for an airstrip at Filton.
However I do recognise the operational importance of the site to the Great Western Air Ambulance. I have spoken with BAe Systems again and am happy to confirm that BAe are in discussions with the Air Ambulance and are committed to working with them to enable operations to continue from within the current airfield boundary.
So what are the future intentions of the local industry, will they, as some have suggested, quickly leave the employees and facilities and supply chains that have been built up over generations?
We know that BAe will continue to have a significant presence locally but what about the other main employers?
Airbus made the following statement on the closure: "Airbus is fully committed to Filton – this is the case now and will remain the case, as clearly demonstrated by the recent decision to build a multi-million pound business park at Filton and the continued investment in state of the art facilities such as the A350XWB Landing Gear Test Facility. We are putting into place a range of mitigation measures to ensure that the closure of the airfield does not affect our business in any significant way."
Rolls-Royce says in a submission to the South Gloucestershire Core Strategy that far from it being prejudiced, "the closure of the airfield is likely to widen the development potential of East Works with, for example, the relaxation of constraints" and, furthermore, that the option of both commercial and residential use for the land that both I and South Gloucestershire Council are recommending to you, is "the only credible option".
GKN has recently invested in converting two units at the Western Approach Distribution Park, Severn Beach, to house a £125 million manufacturing facility for the company, creating 250 jobs locally. This investment was in no way based on the continued existence of the airstrip.
With these reassurances, all in the public domain, it is hard not to see the cynicism and opportunism that some local politicians are displaying.
The local Labour group have said that they "have not been persuaded that there is no operational future for the runway" fully in the knowledge that the airfield is losing significant amounts of money and has done for many years. The Bristol Labour Party leader, Councillor Peter Hammond, has said that the airfield's future is central to the economic growth of the area and will jeopardise 30,000 jobs.
Rather than scaremongering, why won't he listen to the local industry, to local employers looking to expand and encourage growth?
Surely our aims should be to secure local investment in the aerospace hi-tech manufacturing sectors, to provide more local employment, to achieve balanced communities by strengthening local infrastructure and transport links, create much-needed housing and secure the Concorde museum and the long-term legacy of aviation at Filton. Those are the aspirations that I see and hear about from local people and the aspirations that I will fight for.
We have the proudest of aviation legacies in Filton and, yes, we must recognise it but not at the expense of future generations.
To uphold this proud legacy and to ensure that Filton's position as one of the cradles of aviation in Britain, and, indeed, the world, is conserved, it is vital that any development of the airfield includes a considerable aviation heritage centre.
In recent weeks I have been continuing my work with South Gloucestershire Council, the Concorde Trust and the Bristol Aero Collection to lobby for this and I have applied huge pressure on BAe Systems to honour their commitment to protect our local aviation legacy by investing in a heritage aviation centre which will include a permanent home for Concorde 216.
I know that BAe have recognised this responsibility and that lots of work is continuing behind the scenes.
Make no mistake, this may well be the last opportunity to secure a permanent home for Concorde 216 here in Filton.
We desperately need more engineers and scientists locally and in the country.
A brilliant aviation heritage centre will help to inspire the next generation of aviation pioneers and would honour those from the past like Sir George White, the founder of aircraft manufacturing in Filton.
I live within sight of the airfield in Filton. I share and appreciate people's sadness and regret at its closure. However I do not and will not support Labour's plans for massive taxpayer support or the development of a busy commercial airport.
The local Labour Party are playing cynical political games with local residents. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. I will do what is right for local residents. We will fight for a fitting legacy for the airfield and the contribution it has made to the local area but also to ensure that the land is used to create local jobs, for the benefit of local industry and the local economy. We will also campaign for desperately needed local housing to only be built with suitable planning conditions, including local transport and other infrastructure improvements.
I cannot imagine a more fitting legacy to the airfield, which has helped our local area grow and thrive over the last 100 years.