Bentwaters: Increased flying from old air base would be ‘major threat’ to Aldeburgh Festival, say event organisers



Organisers of the world famous Aldeburgh Festival fear allowing extra flying at the former Bentwaters military base will disrupt musical performances and recordings.

Aldeburgh Music, established by composers Sir Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears and theatrical director Eric Crozier to host the annual festival at Snape Maltings, described extra flights as “a major reputational and financial threat” to the event.

The charity has stepped into a row which has split communities across east Suffolk since Bentwaters Parks, owners of the old USAF base, submitted a blueprint for its future.

The owners say the main aim is to regularise activities at the 940-acre former Cold War base, settling the use of nearly 200 buildings and permitting 960 air movements a year, an average of less than two flights a week.

This would include an air show, the flying of heritage planes and occasional business flights. They has denied it is an attempt to create a civil airport.

Opponents though believe extra flying will destroy the tranquillity of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, harm wildlife, and ruin one of the main reasons people visit the Suffolk Coastal area.

Others have pointed out that it was far noisier when Bentwaters was an active USAF base – when the Aldeburgh Festival would have been running.

Harry Young, general manager and interim chief executive of Aldeburgh Music, said activity at Snape was a major economic driver for the region and the level of flying proposed could disrupt concerts, recordings and its young artist programmes, as well as disturbing the tranquillity of the AONB.

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He said: “Whilst this level of activity may not seem huge, these flights could be grouped together on a fine summer day, to cause a very significant disturbance to a performance or recording, and the environment.

“One of the aeroplanes is the Spitfire that memorably featured at the start of last year’s Grimes on the Beach performances, but the other planes are far, far noisier.

“The most serious risk is that if permission is granted, it would be easier for the operators to increase the level of flying in the future, making this the thin end of the wedge.

“The quality of the hall’s acoustic is world renowned. Performances are often broadcast and reviewed in the national and international press. Aeroplanes can be heard by audiences and detected by microphones. There is a major reputational and financial threat.”

Steven Bainbridge, of Evolution Town Planning, agents for Bentwaters’ owners, was “particularly disappointed” at Aldeburgh Music’s comments. He had spoken to Mr Young and offered to meet him to explain the planning application.

He said: “Aldeburgh Music’s views totally confound me. My understanding is that the festival and concert hall were operating when Bentwaters was an active military base and there was never any complaints made.”

The owners had employed recognised experts to carry out a tranquility study, submitted with the application, and the very limited flying proposed would not have any significant impact on the area.