East Devon airfield plans spark backlash

The new owner of a small, private airfield in East Devon has hit back at ‘nefarious’ objectors and also East Devon District Council after having to officially apply into an entity operational 365 days of the year. Farway Common Airfield, Moorlands Farm, just outside Sidbury in East Devon, was established 36 years ago and was originally operated under the ’28 day rule’.

Anita Merrit www.devonlive.com

However, it has always been available 365 days a year to both resident and visiting aircraft which is evidenced from airfield logbooks, the on-site flying school and aircraft owners. As the site doesn’t technically have planning permission, new owner and qualified pilot James Hortop, has had to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development.

The planning application has so far received 108 public comments and of those, 56 are in support of it and 51 against. Concerns raised include noise pollution, safety concerns for those directly under flight paths and being in with an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Gary Fuller, who lives directly by the 30 acres airfield which has two runways, said: “The new person who has bought it is trying to develop it into something a bit bigger and a lot of residents have complained due to concerns about excessive noise and it is in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“I am also worried about disruption, the flight paths, being overlooked and what it could turn into. I believe the peace and tranquility we have experienced in the last 10 years will change and there will be no changing it back when the new owner gets the certificate of lawfulness.

“The person who owned it before just had it as a private airstrip. He was in his 90s and hadn’t flown for about 10 years, but he used to have people fly in and land there and would have some things running from there, but if it ever got too noisy he would put a stop to it. He ran it with respect for the neighbours.

“From what I have read on the planning application, the new person who bought it has big plans for the airfield to make it a bigger commercial venture and it will be used whenever he wants.”

Farway Common Airfield

Farway Common Airfield

To address concerns raised by local residents and objectors, Mr Hortop has written an open letter. In it, he states: “We are very disappointed with the obvious campaign that is running in objection to our recent application for a lawful use certificate. Many of the objections are a cut and paste from a circular letter whose writer has not properly read or understood our application.

“Despite making our contact details known and introducing ourselves to our near neighbours not a single one has opened any dialogue whatsoever as to what our plans are and our reasons for the application. We did not want to make an application; we were forced to do it.

“We write this letter in an attempt to prevent further concern, worry and fear that these circulating nefarious letters/social media posts are creating.”

He continued: “Due to unnecessary escalation from the council – with an out of the blue Contravention Notice despite writing to EDDC – we have had no choice but to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development. This is simply to protect what has been occurring at the airfield for over 20 plus years.”

Mr Hortop added: “All we seek to do is regularise the operation of the site as a small airfield. The application to do this has been blown out of all proportion.”

Mr Hortop confirmed that its resident pilots fly around 70 to 100 hours per year (five to eight hours per month). He said: “We are also a small airfield with very limited space; we simply don’t have the room for hundreds of aircraft.”

Addressing concerns about its commercial flying school, he said: “The word ‘commercial’ has been taken out of all context. By commercial, we mean ‘for reward and employment. This does not mean an ab-initio school for would be commercial pilots who want to do circuits all day, every day.

“In fact, it would actually be illegal as such training must occur at a licenced facility. The flying school has operated for over 12 years.”

He continued: “The site has operated at a greater intensity than it does now for numerous years over the last two decades. No complaints during this time were received.

“There has been no impact on the ANOB, our fields are full of wild flowers, insects, pollinators, deer and birds. We seek to preserve and protect this environment.

“However, the natural asset that Farway Common Airfield has become is dependent on flying activities. Without it, we would be forced to graze horses or other livestock which would result in a monoculture.

“Had the airfield caused many of the issues that people are worried about, EDDC would have acted five, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. There have been no complaints to act on.

“While we completely understand the concerns, the perceived negative effects of the airfield on the area have not materialised.”

Thanking those who have shown their support for the application, he said: “Farway is clearly loved by many and an important local and national asset to the flying community.”

Farway Common Airfield

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council said: “The council received a complaint early in the summer from a resident raising concerns that the times that Farway Common Airfield is used had significantly increased in recent times and now far exceeds the 28 days in a calendar year that the airfield can operate without needing planning permission. Council officers investigated the claims and agreed with the complaint and so advised the airfield to either stop or apply for retrospective planning permission.

“In response, the operators of the airfield have made an application called a Certificate of Lawfulness to demonstrate that they have been operating for more than 28 days per year for at least the last 10 years. Under the legislation where this is proven through evidence then the use can be recognised by the council as being lawful having operated unchallenged for more than 10 years.

“It is only right that this matter be formally addressed through the current application and residents be given the opportunity to submit evidence to challenge the applicant’s case. The airfields case could never have been formally considered other than through a formal application. A decision on the application will be made in due course.”

James is CEO of Merlin Equipment which supplies and designs of unique power products to the marine, specialist vehicle and defence industries. During Covid-19, his business delivered 500 x COVID vaccination and test vehicles in just three months

The Certificate of lawful development involves taking off, landing and manoeuvring of aeroplanes on the ground, and would allow operation 365 days per year – and regularising the use that currently takes place. The Town & Country Planning Act 1990: Section 191 as amended by section 10 of the Planning & Compensation Act 1991 states that the local authority has a period of up to 10 years to take enforcement action against breaches of planning control.

After the time limit has passed, the development becomes lawful, in terms of planning. To view the planning application, please click here.

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