Officials give go-ahead to increase flights at former US airbase Bentwaters

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Proposals to increase flying at a former military airbase have been given the green-light by officials.

Following a Suffolk Coastal District council chamber meeting, councillors approved plans to increase flights at the former US airbase Bentwaters, near Woodbridge.

Councillors unanimously agreed to give the proposals the go-ahead, which have been subject to fierce debate, splitting communities in east Suffolk.

Flights at the former base will be limited to historic, classic or vintage aircraft, or piston-engined general aviation planes, or other aircraft below a maximum take-off weight of 15 tonnes.

No more than 960 aircraft movements a year will be permitted – and no more than 40 a week, with no flying between 9pm and 7am.

The number of air traffic movements green-lighted is less than 2% of the air traffic movement considered and refused in 1999 by a government-appointed inspector when Suffolk Coastal proposed an airport on the site.

All pilots using the runway at the 964-acre site will be supplied with a navigation chart, highlighting special protection areas and advising the avoidance of low flying over wildlife areas, and a full log will be kept of all aircraft movements.

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During the discussion, which included parish council representation as well as that from local societies, councillor Andy Smith said the base was a “fantastic resource”, and as a business point had a unique selling point that there would be access available by small aircraft.

He added: “There is a tremendous opportunity to bring the highest level of employment with very little impact on Suffolk.”

Christopher Hudson, also a councillors, added: “This is the future, this is progress, and this is change.

“What damage would accrue if we said no? How much money would disappear? How many jobs would disappear?”

Councillor Stephen Burroughes added: “It’s a cracking good use of a former airbase.

“It’s a good way to support our agenda for jobs and growth.”

However councillor Tony Fryatt had concerns about the environment, saying: “It does come at a cost. People outside will suffer.

“My concern is not whether we should do it but have we got the right conditions which I think we have.”

Debbie McCallum, who was chairing the meeting, said the site would offer more to young people, and keep them in the district.

Following the decision, planning consultant Steven Bainbridge, of Evolution Town Planning, for Bentwaters Parks, said: “It’s a relief for the local community, there has been overwhelming support.

“It’s a relief for everyone, it’s taken too long to get to this point.

“It’s eyes to the future and eyes to the sky.”