End of an era for Filton Airfield

Published on: 13 Jan 2013

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And then, silence at Filton Airfield

It has been Filton’s greatest landmark for decades, but finally, on December 21, the airfield stood silent. Campaigners have been arguing that the closure - along with the prospect of major house building - will spell disaster for the local economy. Owners BAE Systems have argued that there is no business case for the airfield. 

Bill BowreyAfter more than 100 years of aircraft heritage, a huge manufacturing role in two world wars, the devastation of German bombing in 1940, the meeting of minds which enabled the iconic Concorde to be built, the sheer scale of the Airbus A380 and the site of employment for tens of thousands of local people … Filton airfield closed quietly, a small plane taking off, never to return.

More than 8,000 feet of runway lay silent, leaving Filton people only with memories of magnificent men in their flying machines, testing planes and piloting all manner of aircraft.

It was especially sombre for campaigners who have fought to keep Filton’s greatest landmark open, and a group of councillors … dressed as if for a funeral … laid a wreath on the perimeter fence.

And on the day of closure, it was announced that housing on the site is ever more likely with the Bristol Post reporting the sale of the site by owners BAE to property firm Bridgehouse Capital Limited, – reportedly for £120 million.

BAE have repeatedly said there was no business case to keep the runway open, and that is has been running at a loss, but campaigners have pointed to profits made in 2010 and 2011.

The sale means that roughly nearly 70 years since the village of Charlton was demolished to make way for the extension of the runway, houses are likely to return to the site … but in huge numbers.

It has also been revealed that Bristol mayor George Ferguson wants an independent report to explore the viability of the airfield long-term and a letter has been written by UKIP councillor Ben Walker, on behalf of campaigners, to transport minister Simon Burns, urging a re-think.

Campaigners are hoping that, without planning permission having been granted, there may still be time to persuade South Gloucestershire Council to have a re-think.

But one prominent campaigner and parish councillor Martin Farmer told filtonvoice that he feared the bulldozers may begin preparation work on the site immediately, rendering the runway no longer viable.

He said: "I really think they might be callous enough to bring in the bulldozers right away. South Glooucestershire have rolled over here – the land has value because they have bent over backwards (to designate the site for development). If they had retained it as an airfield, it would have been viable."

South Gloucestershire Council has a strategic plan to build 2,500 homes on the site, with part of the land earmarked for employment.

Local Labour politicians, including Filton councillors Adam Monk, Darryl Collins and Ian Scott – supported by campaigners including Filton Conservative councillor Doug Daniels – gathered at the airfield where Bill Bowery, a works convenor at the site for 16 years, spoke of his sadness.

He said: "We are saying goodbye to a vibrant future. Where else would you find a runway of this size."

He said he was fearful that future employers would have no particular reason to come to Filton any more.

As he placed the wreath, he also spoke movingly of the thousands of people who had worked on aircraft projects over the years.

Mr Monk said: "In 1940 German bombs failed to close the airfield but today developers and short-sighted Tory and Lib Dem councillors have succeeded where they failed.

"They have endangered thousands of high tech jobs in the process."

BAE recently reiterated its support for a new aviation heritage museum on the airfield, for which it has donated a site, £2 million of funding and £400,000 of professional help.

It also confirmed that the air ambulance and police helicopters based at Filton will continue to be able to fly from the site.

The UKIP letter to Simon Burns talks says that the closure is a decision of ‘national significance’, affecting jobs.

Mr Burns has been urged to look again at the closure, especially in light of the UK’s need for greater air capacity.

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