Bentwaters: Air base flying ‘will have no impact’ on birds and landscape


Bentwaters - Credit: Archant

Owners of a Suffolk air base are hoping controversial proposals to increase flying at the former military site will now get the go-ahead after Natural England gave the project the all-clear.

The body – whose role is to ensure the natural environment is conserved and enhanced – had earlier expressed concerns over the plan for Bentwaters and told Suffolk Coastal it should not grant permission until evidence proved there would be no significant impact on the area’s specially-protected landscape and wildlife.

Now Natural England has issued a formal “no objection” to the project, saying it is “not likely to have a significant effect” – paving the way for the possibility of district councillors approving the plans.

The issue has split communities across the area with many people fearing extra flying will ruin its tranquillity and disturb wildlife, and the council received 1,400 responses from residents, plus petitions understood to contain several thousand signatures.

However, Natural England still wants to see safeguards and says its view is based on a limit of 20 aircraft movements a week, the recording and annual distribution of a flight log, and the provision of a flight map identifying sensitive areas to ensure planes do not fly over these.

Previously the organisation had said it could not rule out the likelihood of significant effects on places such as the Alde and Ore estuary, RSPB Minsmere, Sandlings, and the Deben, Orwell and Stour estuaries and called for more information to be submitted.

Its particular concerns was the effect of low flying aircraft on wintering and nesting birds, and the impact on nesting Nightjars and Woodlarks.

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Planning consultant Steven Bainbridge, of Evolution Town Planning, for Bentwaters Parks, said the issue of a no objection was “good news” for the project.

He said: “Natural England is the key consultee on the matter of the impact on birds and estuaries and it was vitally important to get their approval.

“We looked at their initial response and our ecologists provided the extra information they were asking for and this clearly satisfied their concerns, and we are pleased the matter is now settled.”

Bentwaters Parks and Stansall Properties Ltd are seeking permission for 960 air movements a year – fewer than two flights a day – for the Spitfire, heritage aerobatic aircraft, some business flights, and an annual air show.

The applicants say the aim is to regularise flying and not to greatly increase the number of flights. The blueprint submitted to the council will also settle planning permission for the use of nearly 200 buildings at the 936-acre site.

Suffolk Coastal’s planning team is currently reviewing the consultation responses and preparing a report for councillors. It is hoped the matter will be brought before the development management committee before the end of the year.