Opinion: Filton, A decision that will haunt us all.
As I stood at the end of Filton Airfield on that emotional day of 21st December (the last day of flying at Filton), although the sun was low and bright in the sky, I could clearly see my personal "airfield" ghosts of the past; an apprentice walking in all winds and weathers across the runway on his way to work; rugby being played on the Filton Combination Ground, briefly disturbed by a Harrier doing flight trials on a Saturday afternoon.
These ghosts are from decades ago and being a long serving Bristol Aerospace worker, the airfield is a key part of my personal make up. I am sad for the past but more importantly angry that the airfield will not be used to its full potential, but in the cold light of day who is responsible? Is it really BAE Systems, a global defence company, which doesn't run airfields (although it managed to run Filton at a profit!) and now has little connection with Bristol? There is a declining defence market in the UK and any defence company would welcome the £120m that BAE Systems will get for turning the airfield into a housing estate. I believe BAE Systems was astute enough to take advantage of a (for them) perfect situation;
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Firstly, the Conservatives and LibDems on South Gloucestershire Council are terrified at the backlash they will receive regarding houses built on Greenbelt. They have offered up the airfield for development and would have us believe that houses will be built on the airfield instead of green fields. This ploy might have worked in the short term but already it has clearly backfired; South Gloucestershire will now lose at least 508 acres of Greenbelt, only 5 other councils in the country will lose more.
Secondly, there is lack of knowledge amongst local politicians about what we do in Filton. The regular headlines about Airbus winning another X billion pound order, doesn't mean that aircraft and engines will be built in Bristol. Far from it; Airbus doesn't make very much in Bristol and engines for Airbus aircraft are manufactured in other parts of the world. Investments in new aircraft and engine factories are taking place, but not in Filton.
A ghost looking into the future will see the runway infrastructure dismantled almost immediately meaning that it will be difficult to restart the airfield. The remaining aerospace industry will have to survive within a housing estate and in an environment where local Conservative and LibDem politicians are focussed on securing rural votes at the 2015 elections and not promoting a long term thriving aerospace industry.
The responsibility for the closure of the airfield lies right at the door of Conservative and LibDem Councillors. Their short-sighted decisions will haunt everyone of us.
(Martin Farmer is a Labour Councillor on Oldland Parish Council, South Gloucestershire. He has worked in aerospace at Filton for over 30 years. This article first appeared in Filton Voice (www.filtonvoice.co.uk) on the 10th January 2013)