Expansion of flying at Bentwaters site is set for approval

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Controversial proposals to increase flying at the former Bentwaters military air base are set to go ahead governed by a string of restrictions.

Councillors are being recommended to approve the plans, which have this year been subject to fierce debate and have split communities in east Suffolk with many people fearing extra flights would destroy the area’s tranquillity and harm its rare wildlife.

Suffolk Coastal received more than 1,200 letters – with 730 in support, mainly backing the site as the continuing home for the Grace Spitfire, and 558 against flying.

Petitions of more than 6,300 signatures in favour of flying were also received.

If councillors agree the proposals, they will be asked to limit flying 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.

All pilots using the runway at the 964-acre site will be supplied with a navigation chart, highlighting Special Protection Area’s 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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Philip Ridley, head of planning and coastal management, believes the conditions imposed on Bentwaters Parks and Stansall Properties Ltd will mitigate any potential impacts of the extra flying of the vintage aircraft and extra business flights.

In a report to next Thursday’s development management committee, he says the extra flying is judged as “small scale” and the level of harm resulting from this at an already major development within the AONB is “not seen as carrying sufficient material weight in isolation to warrant refusal”.

Mr Ridley said: “This is a location which has not been without significant disturbance from aircraft in the past and still some military aircraft frequent the area in association with RAF Woodbridge.

“However, there is an acknowledged difference between the need for military aircraft in the area over general aviation. It is considered that there would be a point at which aviation from Bentwaters would adversely affect the tranquillity of the AONB, however the extent of flying proposed by the application is of a low intensity.

“Based on the amount of flying proposed, at 20 flights per week, the amount of noise and activity this would add to the skies of the AONB would not be so substantive as to create a significant to harm the qualities it offers as a landscape in its own right, or indeed to unreasonably impinge upon recreation and tourism in the area.”

The number of air traffic movements now proposed would be 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.

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