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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Letter #3 - Request for face-to-face discussion with Mole Valley planners

Following a telephone call with the planners at Mole Valley Council, prompted I believe by the creation of my web site, I have offered to meet the planning team face to face to discuss ways forward. Attached is a copy of my letter. 

Corporate Head of Planning
Andrew Bircher 
Mole Valley District Council
Pippbrook, Dorking, RH4 1SJ
November 5th 2011
Dear Mr Bircher,
Further to our telephone call prompted by the creation of my web site.

Thank you for confirming that you would like to regularize the situation regarding the Gatwick Aviation Museum. I would very much like to take you up on your suggestion of face to face discussions on options moving forward, before any further planning application is made. I am happy to meet at your offices if you would write to me with possible dates. (email address above)

Having had the telephone call with you, I am still of the opinion that the museum is of great importance locally and nationally. I also want to put the owner's and team's mind at rest that a way forward can be found, especially taking into account my fears about the stress and uncertainty I mentioned in other letters.

I feel that a meeting face to face could help to develop some ideas, although I must stress that I am not representing the owner or team formally, and they may be making their own plans.

You mentioned in email that to hold a meeting I would have to pay Mole Valley Council fees, perhaps as much as £600, as set out here:
As a member of the general public, with no formal link to the museum other than my strong support, I obviously cannot pay such a fee, and ask that you waive it in this instance, given the contribution to national heritage that the owner has made over the years, and the efforts they are going to to abide by conditions that could lead to a happy outcome. I must stress again the huge financial input, time and effort by the team, to build up this local and national asset, over perhaps more than two decades. We need to be supporting them.  

Howard Smith

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Letter to Mole Valley Council #2

This second letter was sent as a courtesy to Mole Valley Planning, after they had ignored my original letter. I used the second opportunity to provide them with a copy of my letter to the Secretary of State for Culture (also provided below in this blog).

Corporate Head of Planning
Andrew Bircher 
Mole Valley District Council
Pippbrook, Dorking, RH4 1SJ
October 12th 2011

Dear Sir,
Please find attached a copy of my previous letter to council. The letter was not acknowledged, and may not have been taken into account in decisions. I was not invited or spoken to by you or any of your staff.

My deep concern continues. I have therefore written to the Secretary of State at the Department for Culture Media and Sport [for readers of this blog it is available below]. To be open about this, I have attached that letter as well. Please could you acknowledge receipt.

As you read these letters, you will appreciate my concerns. I am concerned not only for the museum, but also the impact on the health of Mr Vallance. I urge you to think again and can we bring in some common sense here at this stage. If you would like to speak to me, or meet me, I am willing of course. We could also visit the site.

Howard Smith

PDF download of Council Decisions

The following document (PDF 45 pages) was provided to me by Mole Valley Council, after I had lodged a complaint that the council were not responding to my letters, to my emails and to my voice calls. They have written to me in email and have refused to speak live in voice, claiming they are 'busy'.

Click here for the full document:
(with View, Search and Download options)

Letter to Secretary of State for Culture

Not hearing anything from Mole Valley Council, I decided to write to the Secretary of State for Culture and Media. All letters were sent registered post. So far, no response from UK Gov nor the Mole Valley Council

Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt
Secretary of State
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street

October 12th 2011


Dear Sir,

I am writing to you to raise what I believe to be an important and potentially urgent matter.

I recently visited a site called the Gatwick Aviation Museum (web addresses below), having come across it by chance. The site is owned by a Mr Peter Vallance. Over more than three decades he has built up an important collection of historic aircraft, parts and related items, including early photographs. The museum has been a labor of love for Mr Vallance. I believe it has National significance.

He, and a small team, run the site on a volunteer basis, and all of the aircraft, and artifacts, have been purchased by Mr Vallance personally. He makes the museum available several times a month, runs school visits, and organizes talks by elderly pilots of the era. This happens all year round. I have seen children become excited and motivated as they enter the museum, due to the number of items and the way they are presented. When you go outside and see the aircraft, it takes everyone by surprise. The fact that you can touch them, and in some cases climb into them, is unique. Some of the aircraft or parts appear to be literally unique. But what is important is the entire collection - a national treasure in my view and those of my friends.

Recently, Mr Vallance applied for planning permission to house some of of the aircraft in order for them not to deteriorate further. His volunteers are doing what they can to avoid this in the meantime. This application has been denied by Mole Valley Council. There is quite a history to this. The site has grown up by renovating a disused area - again via volunteers. It is somewhat out of the way, just outside Charlwood, on the edge of Gatwick airport outer regions. Mr Vallance has maintained all trees etc, improving the site from what it used to be. His diligence and dedication to this, to provide this local amenity is quite extraordinary. He is now old, and not in good health. Some of the battles with the local council to gain a little support to his efforts have taken their toll no doubt. He feels he is 'battling' officialdom. He simply wishes to preserve the museum and its contents and for this to be locally available. He lives nearby, and always has done. It has become his 'home' in effect.

I judge that Mr Vallance's efforts are a wonderful and real example of what "The Big Society" is there for. On the several occasions I have visited, the site has had many visitors, also photographers and hobbyists, as well as children. They are clearly appreciative. The site itself generates no noise or problem for anyone. It is an asset. Mr Vallance has also created a Charity relating to the museum.

However, with Mr Vallance raising his head with respect to planning, there are now rumors the council may even take action against him and the site. I am concerned for the museum, and his health. I believe, that contrary to the barriers the council may/are putting in his way, they ought instead to be congratulating him, and helping him to maintain the site, promote the site and secure the cultural asset. After all, this citizen has done a quite extraordinary thing. The collection is important. It has been over three decades of work, and is virtually unknown, nationally.

During the latter stages of his planning applications, I myself (an observer with no vested interest who had come across the museum quite by chance), wrote to the Mole Valley council officers with my personal words of support. I also wrote in email. I did not receive a single reply, nor to telephone calls I left for them!

Mr Vallance has also found the council difficult to deal with I understand. I believe that elected officials should wish to respond to serious letters made by the public. In this case, especially so. They have no done so to me.

To summarise: This museum is important. A citizen has created it against all odds using their own resources, commitment and that unique United Kingdom eccentricity we all appreciate and love. Please can you intervene and encourage the council to look at this another way? I am sure that some 'bad blood' has flowed between Mr Vallance and the council. That must be put to one side in favor of the importance of the museum.

I realize you have no knowledge of the site or museum yourself, but if you would like to visit it, I would be happy to accompany you of one or more of your colleagues.

I believe that, if only for local schools, or those further afield, this is an important resource. For historians even more so.

I am interested in hearing your views at your earliest opportunity, since I don't want 'events' instigated by Mole Valley Council to overtake us with no way back.

Sincerely and urgently,


Howard Smith

URLS for the museum such as they are:

Letter to Mr James May (TopGear and Man Lab)

A friend of mine suggested I reach out to James May for any help that could be provided. I wrote a letter via BBC, and also trying to use Twitter to reach him.

Mr James May
Presenter and Enthusiast for the right stuff 
October 12th 2011

Dear Mr May (James),

I am writing to you on what could be an important and urgent matter. An Elderly gentleman called Mr Peter Vallance, based in the Gatwick Area, has, over more than two decades, built up an important collection of historic aircraft, parts, engines and photographs and models. It is called the Gatwick Aviation Museum, and it is an incredible achievement and 110% worth visiting. It is like entering a candy store as a child! I believe some artifacts are of national importance. The museum is virtually unknown, other to officials at Mole Valley Council, who appear to block every move and may want it closed. There is rumor of legal action against the museum. Why am I writing?

1. Simply to let you know, since this place needs to be visited and visible.
2. The council's bureaucratic and petty activities over a decade or more, are close to the point where I fear they will take action.
3. This is impacting Mr Vallance health.

I have written to the council about this. No reply. No acknowledgment. (somewhat expected). I have therefore written to the Secretary of State for Culture (COPY ATTACHED) My letter to UK Gov tells the story in full so I won't repeat it here.

My questions are: Are you interested in this? Would you like to visit? Is there anything we can do to raise visibility?

To get a small taste of the museum, I have put URLs at the bottom of this letter [and now on this site right of page], including photographs I took when I first came across it, simply by chance one day I believe this museum is of great interest to you. Not only because of the aircraft, but also the engine collection. The site is under threat. Some common sense needs to come back into the council. They need to be supporting Mr Vallance, not blocking him at every turn.

Hoping to hear from you if you decide in any way to assist, however small,


Howard Smith

Original letter to Mole Valley Council #1

This is verbatim text of a letter to Mole Valley Council. It has never been answered. Despite emails and calls to their offices they have not returned my inquiry or wished to enter into a voice call.

To the Chief Planning Officer 
Mole Valley District Council 
Pippbrook, Dorking 
Reference MO/2011/0190 

Dear Sir,

I am writing to support the application for new buildings on the Gatwick Aircraft Museum site. I visited this museum for the first time today, having not realized before it existed. It is a most wonderful museum, as a I understand it, built up over many years due to the dedication of the owner, friends, colleagues and engineers.

Before you take decisions that put the future of the site in jeopardy, I would ask you to consider the impact. Today, I witnessed many young people visiting the site. Like me they were amazed at the collection, both indoors and outdoors. This is unique. One boy simply was so excited he gasped when he entered. Other enthusiasts were there, all for the first time, and expressed dismay that the site is in danger. This is an important collection, with rare objects of all kinds and rare aircraft. Clearly, a lot of time, effort and finance has gone into making this wonderful legacy. It is especially important, now that certain aircraft are becoming rare, not just in UK, but the world.

It is my view that rather than refusing permissions to maintain this asset, the council should be actively working with the owner, to secure this future for everyone. I understand that a refusal has been given for new buildings to house the aircraft, which are currently outdoors and unprotected. It is essential that something is done, and be permitted to be done. I am sure you will agree.

Our aeronautical past is gradually being lost, and to have a local resident spend so many years, and so much finance, to build this for everyone, is something you should be applauding .... especially in the era of the "Big Society". Please, let's get the resources of council supporting this effort, not making it harder and harder going forward. Why the council would not wish to do this, I cannot imagine.

Clearly, as someone new to this museum, I don't know all history. From the Web, I have found that things have maybe got heated. But the history of this matter must be put to one side, taken completely out of our minds. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the only thing we must focus on is for the council to start to work with the owner to secure the museum and its contents. For, I am sure you will agree, the building of this resource was an act of passion and commitment by the team involved.

I understand that people are visiting regularly, including newcomers. I understand that the the opening times are strictly limited and having visited the site, I see no downside for the locale. I also understand that school parties are now visiting the site, and this is much needed. With the UK government once again placing renewed focus on engineering, inspiring our young people is essential.

Please give this your full consideration. Please share with letter with your colleagues. In amongst all the red tape which the owner has had to cope with, can we all think about the bigger picture and secure this asset for everyone's benefit going forward. Let's start developing the plan in cooperation between all parties. I hope I can speak to you about this in the near future. 


Howard Smith

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Gatwick Aviation Museum and the "Green Belt" Decision

Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) approved 329 out of 979 applications in the green belt in 2010/11, similar to the previous year, when 391 out of 926 were permitted. [source: ThisIsSurrey] .... Despite this, it is the 'Green Belt' issue that is always raised as the council's singular objection to the Gatwick Aviation Museum.

The council's decision needs to be examined since, as Wikipedia notes and the map above shows, this modest Museum site is already very close to Gatwick Airport's outer runways and to other Gatwick Airport aircraft parking bays, as well as to other light (and unrelated) industrial units.

The Mole Valley council planning decision is also difficult to understand because those agencies who you might expect to object strongly on environmental grounds (i.e. "Green Belt") have not done do. Indeed, many have been supportive of the Museum, and of its latest planning application. They include:

Quoting from the planning documents:

"Surrey Wildlife Trust: The Trust is generally satisfied with the content of the applicant’s Ecological Assessment Report and agrees that no designated or locally important wildlife sites should be adversely impacted by the Museum development. They are supportive of the recommendations contained in the planning report."

"Historic Environment Officer: Comments as follows: ‘in my professionel opinion, these proposed new buildings will not harm the heritage asset of the setting of Grade ll listed Chariwood Place Farm and its listed outbuildings ... the new buildings would be too far away to cause demonstrable harm. The lowest new building would be closest to the listed group of buildings but would replace not dissimilar low buildings. There is also good vegetation acting as screening between the two sites. The new buildings do appear to have been carefully designed to reduce their impact on the wider setting by digging them into the contours of the land and introducing ‘green’ roofs. The larger, higher new buildings are certainly much too far away from the listed buildings to be of any threat to the setting.’"

"Environment Agency: Recommend a number of conditions which would be required if the development is to be acceptable, inciuding one which would require the development to be carried out in accordance with the applicant's Flood Risk Assessment." And the Museum has apparently agreed to comply.

"Natural England: Has no adverse comments to make on the planning proposal. However, were the LPA minded to grant permission, every effort should be made to incorporate features within the design which would enhance the biodiversity qualities of the site, such as nesting boxes and bat roosts." And the Museum has apparently agreed to comply.

"Mole Valley Access Group: Note that there is no access statement and no specific provision for visitors and employees such as dedicated parking spaces and accessible toilets. A lift is included, however." And the Museum has apparently agreed to comply.

"Thames Water: Has no objections with regard to sewerage infrastructure. In terms of surface water drainage, they point out that it is the responsib├Čiity of the applicant to make proper provision for drainage to ground, water courses or a suitable sewer." And the Museum has apparently agreed to comply.

"Environmental Health Department: Advise that there is no requirement for a condition to cover contamination."

In addition, in pages 76 to 78 of the planning documents (pages 11-13 in the PDF) there are other supporting comments and actions being taken by the Museum to comply with all of the conditions. Despite this, and other facts in support of the museum, the Inspector has ruled as follows in the section entitled "Heritage and historic value" (page 80, page 15 in the PDF):

"Not withstanding these admirable points ... the Inspector was firmly of the view that this rural Green Belt site was not an acceptable place in which to station such a collection. .... In the Inspector's view, 'the serious harm which the development causes to the functioning of the Green Belt .... is not offset by the value and importance of the aircraft collection.'"

At the same time, the Inspector "was in no doubt as to the enthusiasm which exists in many quarters for the preservation of the aircraft collection, including from eminent people in the field of aviation."

The Inspector also "heard evidence of the value of the machines for training students at Crawley College and also for scouts, air scouts and other enthusiasts. (The museum now supports other groups in addition)

It is my view, and those of others that support the Museum's achievement, that more examination of the council's 'Green Belt' objective is needed, especially given the long history of the council's blocking of the Museum over more than two decades. 

"For" and "Against" at Mole Valley District Council

I have been provided this information officially by Mole Valley Council. It relates to the recent round of voting in 2011 on planning proposals, prior to the appeal now lodged by the museum in 2012.

Against the Gatwick Aviation Museum: (12)

Councillor Margaret Cooksey
Councillor Stephen Cooksey
Councillor Phil Harris
Councillor Bob Hedgeland
Councillor Valerie Homewood
Councillor Chris Hunt
Councillor Bridget Lewis-Carr
Councillor Simon Ling
Councillor Tim Loretto
Councillor Corinna Osborne-Patterson
Councillor Caroline Salmon
Councillor Chris Townsend

For the Gatwick Aviation Museum: (7)

Councillor Emile Aboud
Councillor Derrick Burt
Councillor Carolyn Corden
Councillor Rosemary Dickson
Councillor Tessa Hurworth
Councillor David Mir
Councillor Chris Reynolds