Temporary approval to extend operating hours for airfield in Northumberland

A row over controversial plans to extend operating hours at a Northumberland airfield is set to rumble on after the scheme was given temporary approval.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 11:01 am
Eshott Airfield, also known as Bockenfield Aerodrome. Picture by Jane Coltman.

Planning chiefs at Northumberland County Council (NCC) agreed to grant the extension to bosses at Bockenfield Aerodrome Ltd, which operates Eshott Airfield.

But the bid to allow work to continue at the site between 8am and 8pm once again exposed bitter divisions between backers and opponents of the application.

Richard Pike, a director at the airfield, claimed complaints about noise and late take-offs and landings had revealed the “obsessive nature” of some objectors.

“During Operation Rescript, where the RAF was flying ventilators to hospitals – that’s why we were refuelling military helicopters,” he told NCC’s Castle Morpeth Local Area Council.

“We were also refuelling Puma helicopters going up to help the air ambulance service in Scotland, which was overwhelmed at the time.

“The old adage that the airfield doesn’t contribute to the local economy seems to have stopped recently, after people have what the airfield does do and the positives that the airfield has.”

Plans to increase operating hours were submitted in 2019, immediately prompting complaints about comings and goings from the site.

A formal response by Thirston Parish Council denied claims of a “vendetta”, but insisted there was a “deep sense of frustration” over dealings with the airfield.

The council’s planning department received 109 objections to the plans from members of the public, compared to 167 comments in support, but conceded many backers were those who used the airfield, but did not live nearby.

Conditions suggested by planning chiefs included limiting the 8am to 8pm operating hours to a 12-month trial period.

And while this was unanimously accepted by the committee, it left some councillors concerned that key issues were left unresolved.

Cllr Mary Murphy said: “I have concerns that as a local authority, we’re stepping in to effectively police a private business.

“We should be able to rely on any business to operate within the rules and regulations set out.

“While I appreciate all the reasons why and I can see the breakdown of the relationship between the business and the local community, it concerns me that we’re putting ourselves to work and expense to make a business work in the way it should in the first place.”