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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. 

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