Mixed reaction to controversial plans to extend operating times at Eshott Airfield

An application which would allow longer operating hours at a Northumberland airifield has split opinion.

Friday, 11th October 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Sunday, 13th October 2019, 8:22 pm
Eshott Airfield, also known as Bockenfield Aerodrome. Picture by Jane Coltman

Bockenfield Aerodrome Ltd, which operates Eshott Airfield near Felton, wants to permanently extend its operating hours from 7am to 11pm.

It has operated those hours for the past 12 months – although in reality this is limited to the summer because the airfield is unlit – under a temporary permission granted by Northumberland County Council last September.

At the time, the authority said it wanted to assess the impact of the change on nearby residents.

The airfield had previously been restricted to operating between 9am and 7pm and many local residents want those restrictions to be restored because of concerns about low flying and excess noise.

Among the 72 objectors is Eshott resident George Simm who claims: “The simple truth of the existing situation in Eshott Village is that there are regular low flights across the village (on occasion at tree top level) conducted by very noisy small aircraft.”

Felton Parish Council adds: “The restriction should remain in place to minimise noise disturbance and nuisance to residents in the villages of Felton, Eshott and West Thirston.”

However, 103 letters of support have been submitted to the planning authority.

Longhoughton pilot Paul Kiddell states: “The hours will primarily benefit pilots during the summer months. It will enable pilots much greater flexibility and allow us to depart the area early and arrive from our travels later during the evening.

“I am one of the most active pilots on the field and have flown five times outside of the core 0900-1900 period in the past year. Generally, even when arriving at 1930, I am met with a deserted airfield. In reality most pilots have homes to go to also.”

Applicant Richard Pike, of Bockenfield Aerodrome, in a supporting document, outlines the airfield’s significant contribution to the local economy. It employs 13 full-time and five part-time staff and is used by crew and tourists with spin-off benefits for local accommodation, attractions, restaurants and services.

He adds: “At each of the monitoring visits carried out since the 2018 decision to increase the operational hours, Northumberland County Council has confirmed that there have been no complaints received.”

Eshott Airfield has been operational since 1942 when it was a Spitfire training base during World War Two.

The airfield is now home to some 70 aircraft and up to 100 aircraft movements a day can be seen in busy periods.

Warbird experience flights drawing on the history of the site are due to start in 2020 and, since 2017, the site participates in military trials and is an official supplier to the Ministry of Defence. It also now offers refuelling services.