[Forum] Almondsbury helibase: Air ambulance chief’s comments challenged

Great Western Air Ambulance.

In response to the previous Journal news article ‘Councillors demand noise barrier if new helicopter base approved‘.

Thank goodness for Caroline Sullivan raising this matter with the people of Bradley Stoke.

The Great Western Air Ambulance is a superb adjunct to the NHS in saving lives in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol. It is therefore a great shame to see comments such as you have received from the chief executive officer of that charity which demean its high ideals.

In Almondsbury’s parish magazine, the Lich Gate, just a couple of weeks ago there were equally outrageous comments submitted in the name of the charity, which implied that if Almondsbury succeeded in blocking the green belt invasion it would be responsible for killing people!

Luckily, our MP, Jack Lopresti has organised a public meeting for 7pm on the 19th June at the BAWA Club on Southmead Road in Filton and everyone is welcome. This also has the force of a required consultation, which will be taken into account by South Gloucestershire Council when considering the Almondsbury planning application. Your readers will be very welcome to come along, their voices will be heard and they will be informed of the real circumstances.

Before dealing specifically with the GWAAC comments, you should be warned about the BAE Systems’ quote that “it is necessary to relocate the helicopter base because leaving it at the airfield would lead to the loss of approximately 400 residential dwellings and a significant proportion of affordable housing” (within the new development).

This is just incorrect – from the submission of the original Filton Airfield application on the 6th October 2014 to the revised documents of the 8th May 2015 there has been no change in the number of dwellings – 2,675 residential dwellings and up to 24ha of commercial use – and at all times the requirement to house the helicopter base somewhere on the Cribbs Patchway New Neighbourhood was part of the Supplementary Planning Documents issued by South Gloucestershire, initially an absolute requirement, later negotiated down to “if an alternative site cannot be found”. The 400 house loss if the helibase is at Filton really means: “If it is not at Filton, 400 extra houses and better profit.”

The comments in the name of Mr Christensen for GWAAC are a rehash that those of us involved from the beginning have seen time and time again. To be brief, Almondsbury is not the only site available that meets the needs of the police and air ambulance, it is the site made to appear to be so – 19 possibilities were ruled out by BAE Systems agents because roads were not good enough for the air ambulance rapid response road vehicles, which apparently cannot operate without a helicopter base! Only managerial incompetency could prevent them being located near major, fast roads. Not forgetting, of course, that the helicopters are guaranteed a state of the art home on the Cribbs Patchway New Neighbourhood.

There seems to be a lack of understanding as to what green belt means. It does not require green grass, just as a brownfield site needs neither to be a field nor brown. Green belt means an area protected from incursion by ‘inappropriate development’, which this specifically is.

The air ambulance may fly only a handful of times a day but the author of the GWAAC statement seems to have forgotten the police helicopter. Before any future expansion, the historical average has been six flights a day, meaning six take-offs and six even noisier landings.

I cannot respond politely to the final paragraph about not being able “to operate from the former airfield, either during construction or once it is fully developed” nor “going further away from Bristol means longer response times, in a scenario where every minute can make the difference between life and death”, so I won’t, but I will make the point that the charity is the Great Western Air Ambulance not the Bristol Air Ambulance.

Julian Stinton, Almondsbury

Photo: Helicopter of the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity in action.

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  1. The details of BAE planning at Filton is obviously a key part of this, but I don’t think we are doing ourselves any favours complaining like NIMBYs here. Contrary to the Air Ambulance chief’s scare tactics, I would expect the number of fatalities would increase with the new base in the proposed field, thanks to drivers on the M4 and M5 getting distracted by helicopters appearing “over the hedge”. Why hasn’t this been considered? And is Lulsgate really that far away that they can’t move there? Or put all the noise together and build a hangar in the Docks area? Or next to the helicopter museum at Weston-super-Mare?

  2. The noise and vibration report clearly shows the impact this relocation would have on not just Almondsbury residents but those living in Bradley Stoke North too. I don’t consider myself a NIMBY by objecting but I do think BAE should stick with what was agreed when the airfield development was first planned and not change it for the profit of a further 400 houses especially when the location is so unsuitable and would have such a devastating effect on local people.

  3. It’s good to see something other than PR spin appearing on the press. The notion that the absolutely vast Filton area cannot accommodate the services is ludicrous. We must not allow a multi national company to throw their weight around like this. I’m disappointed that the ceo of GWAAC and the air police have made such a dramatic u-turn after initially insisting a move from Filton would be disastrous. The case for relocation onto the Almondsbury green belt is incoherent, contradictory and simply not borne out by any evidence.