The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 17 Summer 2010
The History of the All-Weather Runway to date 1997-2010
The All-Weather Runway battle began with the Sywell Airport Action Committee (SAAC) when they launched their campaign "Luton comes to Sywell" in early 1998 during the consultation stage of the County Structure Plan. This was before the founders of STARE had purchased their houses near the Aerodrome.
With the adopted Local Plan in place and the imminent adoption of the County Structure Plan, both supporting aviation improvements at Sywell, work began on the Scoping Report with Wellingborough Council (WBC) to agree the contents required in an Environmental Statement (ES) to accompany the application for the All- Weather Runway. Once agreed our consultants began the studies required and finally in February 1999 the ES was finished and the application was submitted to WBC.
After two years WBC had still not determined the application as there had been a great deal of capitulation as a result of the pressure and unfounded speculation spread by SAAC. Due to our frustration caused by WBC's in-action, Sywell Aerodrome appealed the application on the grounds of non-determination.
In November 2001 a second application was submitted, which went to the Development Control meeting in March 2002 with the officer's recommendation for approval. SAAC made the Meeting very uncomfortable for everyone with their intimidating tactics, however, the Councillors voted to approve the application with a number of conditions restricting Air Traffic Movements (ATMS) etc. to 75,000 per annum together with a section 106 agreement with other obligations.
As a result of that approval Sywell Aerodrome was able to withdraw their appeal of the first application. SAAC having fought the application all the way and being disappointed with this decision, mounted a legal challenge by way of Judicial Review in September 2002.
The first hearing in the High Court was to decide if there was a case to answer and whether the case should proceed to a full hearing. Although SAAC's case was very 'thin' the Judge gave them the benefit of doubt and the case was set down for a full Hearing, which took place in the High Court in May 2003.
During the Judicial Review Hearing, the Judge QC Sullivan, came across a simple procedural error in that WBC had not made public their consultant's report recommending approval. He stated that without this document the General Public were not able to understand how WBC came to their decision. WBC subsequently gave in and our Planning Permission was quashed before the defence had been heard. SAAC did not and were not likely to win on a single point, it was a simple error picked up by the Judge. By the look on their faces during the hearing they were very worried indeed and they were very fortunate to have avoided substantial costs against them. Ironically the founder members of SAAC, who had only moved into the area 3 months before launching SAAC, put their houses on the market 6 months after the Hearing and the ring leader moved away only three months later.
In June 2003, with the All-Weather Runway lost through no fault of our own, Sywell Aerodrome had no alternative but to start from scratch once again. A new Scoping Report was agreed with WBC and a very detailed and comprehensive ES prepared. Finally in June 2004 the work was complete and a third application was lodged with WBC.
This time WBC engaged consultants, RPS, to deal with the application for them. The application was different to the first two in that it assessed the baseline case (i.e. what happens now) plus a worst case scenario based on proposed maxima. by way of proposed conditions. The conclusion reached by the ES was that there would be a negligible adverse impact on the local environment. Noise was considered the key issue. However the increase in noise in a worst case scenario would be less that 1 decibel. This is considered just perceptible and therefore a negligible impact.
In March 2005 after months of assurances that the application would be determined and in the absence of a firm date, Sywell Aerodrome appealed the application for non-determination along with a cost claim. A fourth application was then submitted different again to the last in that Sywell Aerodrome invited WBC to propose conditions that reflect the baseline case, which would not increase the impact of aircraft on the locality at all. In May 2005 WBC decided to put the third & appealed application before Councillors to decide what they would have decided if the application had not been appealed. The consultants, RPS, compiled the Green Paper Report, which on inspection is a seriously flawed document recommending refusal. Not surprisingly Councillors followed their recommendation.
Then in early 2006 the Council requested that the ES be brought up to date to include all alterations & additions since it was first compiled. The updated ES was submitted to the Council in April 2006.
The third and appealed application was listed for a Public Inquiry that started on 25th July 2006 and ran for 14 days ending with a site visit on 30th August. The opposing barristers for the Council and STARE tried hard to find fault with our evidence but failed. It was evident that either their expert witnesses had not had all the documents and therefore did not have all the facts or had not read all the documents because of budget constraints. On the other hand our QC and barrister were able to dismantle much of the oppositions' evidence and discredit their evidence in many areas. On closing the Inquiry the Inspector advised us that his report would be with the Inspectorate by the end of October and thereafter the decision was in the hands of Ministers at Westminster.
In December 2006 we received a letter from the Government's Office advising us that they now had the Inspector's Report. Nothing was heard then for some time. All the Government Office would say is that there is no statutory time limit for a decision. We just have to wait. On 24th November 2007 the long wait came to an end as the decision was finally released. We were very pleased to read the Inspector's conclusions. All our evidence was accepted and the submissions from the Council and Stare were rejected. Neither party were successful in scoring a single point, our evidence stood up to the rigorous scrutiny without faltering.
The Inspector recommended approval with certain conditions restricting Air Traffic Movements to levels well above those granted by the Council 2002, the permission lost by legal challenge from objectors.
The fourth application remained before WBC leaving the way open for a determination with conditions restricting the Aerodrome to the baseline case assessed that reflects the current use. The Council never pursued that option. As we have stated many times, the 2002 conditions were acceptable to Sywell Aerodrome then and they would have been acceptable now. Having received the decision there was then a period of three months in which a legal challenge could have been mounted by the Council or objectors. Thankfully that period ended on 24th February 2008 without a challenge being lodged and therefore the decision was safe and could not be taken away again. Before work on the runway could commence there were a number of conditions that had to be discharged, which was done and acknowledged by WBC on 19th June 2008.
Work commenced on 24th June and the runway construction was finished on 22nd October 2008. The winter of 2008/9 was very wet and so not much work to the landscaping or drainage was done until it dried up, which was not until April 2009. However, in the meantime permission had been granted by the Forestry Commission to fell part of Sywell Wood where trees had grown over a period of years into the glideslope of runway 03/21. This work commenced in early March and was finished in mid April 2009.
During the summer of 2009 the drainage scheme was constructed and the land around the runway levelled, graded and re-sown. The runway then had its markings painted on prior to the all important abrasion test which it passed with ease. This is a requirement by the CAA to ensure the runway surface has sufficient abrasion to ensure aircraft do not lock up wheels or skid, particularly in wet conditions.
The CAA made an initial inspection in November 2009 and a number of issues were identified as requiring attention. This included the addition of a second wind sock and the alteration of the threshold markings to runway 15/33. The final inspection by the CAA was carried out in February 2010 when they confirmed that the new All- Weather runway could be licensed for use. A major step forwards. So from the start of the planning process in 1997 to the All-Weather Runway coming into use in 2010, it took 13 difficult years.
You may think that is where the struggle finishes but sadly that is not the case. The Antis "STARE" and Councillor Bass continue their battle against the runway at every opportunity, instigating investigations and making false accusations, wasting everyone's time in dealing with their continuing campaign. They continue their battle at the Joint Consultative Committee meetings, which so far has prevented the meetings addressing the core business of the committee, a lost opportunity for the Aerodrome and a bigger loss to the local community. The whole episode has been such a pointless waste of resources and money for all concerned, particularly for the Council. However, the runway is now operational and the first corporate service has been launched with the arrival of the King Air 200 and no doubt many more will follow. The All-Weather runway can only be good for business in Northamptonshire and time will no doubt tell.