Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) had cause to celebrate the biggest week in its history at the end of November, when it received final confirmation of planning permission for a new helicopter operations base at a site near the Almondsbury Interchange and learned that a £1 million grant was heading its way.
GWAAC chief executive John Christensen said:
“Finding a new base has been a long journey for us, and I am glad that it is now finally over, and we can begin work. Our main focus has been to find a site that is easily accessible both by helicopter and car, and the Almondsbury site was the only viable option. I am pleased that we will have a modern base that will ensure that we can continue to provide this life-saving service.”
A new modern hanger will be built, which will house the GWAAC helicopter alongside the National Police Air Service (NPAS) helicopter. This hanger will be a significant upgrade on the current hanger at Filton Airfield, which was built during the First World War and is one of the oldest surviving hangers in the UK. It will finally allow the charity to operate out of a building that is fit for purpose.
GWAAC has been based on Filton Airfield since its first flight in 2008. However, the airfield is now being redeveloped, which meant that the charity needed a new home to operate from. Work is set to begin on the new base for GWAAC and NPAS early in 2017, and the charity hopes to be operational from the site by the end of the year.
The news about the base came just days after GWAAC received a £1 million one-off grant from the government’s Libor funds. The grant was one of a number announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond on 23rd November as part of his autumn statement.
The 2012 Libor rate fixing scandal involved a series of fraudulent transactions connected to the Libor, or London Interbank Offered Rate. HM Treasury subsequently agreed to donate some of the fines imposed on financial institutions in the wake of the scandal to be used to support military and emergency services charities.
Almondsbury helibase planning application: Decision made, quashed and then remade
Plans for a new helicopter base in Almondsbury, on a green belt site just across the M5 motorway from north Bradley Stoke, were originally submitted to South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) in April 2015.
The proposed new helibase is intended to serve the needs of the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity and the National Police Air Service, whose helicopters are currently based at Filton Airfield.
BAE Systems, which owned the airfield at the time of the original planning application, and had plans to redevelop it with 2,675 residential dwellings, said it was 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”.
It was also claimed that the emergency services’ current base would become unsuitable due to demolition and construction activity in the vicinity of helicopter operations over many years.
Outline planning permission for the airfield redevelopment has since been granted and the site sold to YTL Utilities (UK), part of the international conglomerate that owns Wessex Water.
An SGC committee approved the helibase plans in July 2015, but a resident of Almondsbury threatened to issue proceedings to judicially review the decision, citing a failure to properly consider environmental impacts and questioning whether the “very special circumstances” required for development in the green belt had been justified when there was an option to retain the base at its current site. The decision to grant planning permission was subsequently quashed, meaning that SGC officers were forced to re-examine the application and bring it back to councillors for re-determination.
Bradley Stoke Town Council (BSTC) originally declined to declare an opinion on the application, but when the case was reopened, it objected, citing concerns over the accuracy of noise reports and asking for alternative sites to be revisited.
SGC’s Development Control (West) Committee was eventually ask to reconsider the application on 11th August 2016. At this meeting, councillors accepted the view of officers that the “very special circumstances” that justified development in the green belt could be summarised as:
- No suitable, available alternative sites;
- Retention of the facility on the Filton site poses potential risks and could curtail the operation of the facility;
- Reduction in the ability of the Filton site to deliver homes (including affordable homes) and possible employment development if the facility were retained on the Filton site;
- The need for emergency services and the public benefit of regional importance which the timely and safe retention of the facility on the application site would protect.
In granting permission, councillors added a condition that requires a community liaison forum to be set up, whose members will include a representative from BSTC.
• YTL have indicated that they intend to increase the number of residential dwellings to be constructed on the former Filton Airfield site to around 3,600. A revised planning application is expected to be submitted soon.
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 4 & 5). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to 9,500 homes in Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Stoke Lodge. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
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