Airport at ‘serious risk of closure’ fear

Shoreham Airport is at 'serious risk', according to pilots
Shoreham Airport is at 'serious risk', according to pilots

THE closure of Shoreham Airport is a real possibility, Shoreham Society has heard.

English Heritage has already been alerted to concerns about the state of airport buildings and the society has called for answers on the future of the airport.

A series of questions were posed to owners and operators ahead of a meeting last Friday but airport manager Ric Belfield said confidential negotiations were ongoing and he could say nothing until the end of May at the earliest.

However, James Appleton, executive head of planning, responded on behalf of Worthing Borough Council, which holds a one-third share in the freehold.

He said they would like to see the airport continue as a place of employment and leisure, but not at a cost to local taxpayers.

They would support English Heritage’s pressure for improvement works but ultimately, if all else failed, the management company could close the airport.

Society chairman Gerard Rosenberg told the meeting: “We all know how important the airport is to Shoreham as part of its persona, especially the main building, which is one of the best Art Deco buildings in the county. So it is of great concern to us that the airport and its buildings are maintained.”

David Skertchly, vice-chairman of Shoreham Airport Operators and Tenants Association (SAOTA), explained some of the background and voiced his own concerns.

“We believe there is a serious risk to the airfield,” he said.“The money has certainly not been spent on the terminal building and the municipal hangar next to it, which is just as important.”

As a founder member of the Lee Flying Association, he played a pivotal role in the award-winning campaign to save the Daedalus Aerodrome in Lee-on-Solent.

“Imagine how I felt when I came to Shoreham and found I was against the very same people,” he added.

He explained the government had made important policy changes to planning permission for brownfield sites, such as the airfield, in the late 1990s.

He said: “In the south, almost every airfield was bought by developers. So far, Plymouth is the only one that has been successfully closed. Shoreham may be next.”

SAOTA became involved when the Erinaceous Group scandal broke, he added. The group bought the leasehold of the airport in 2006 and had ambitious plans to develop it but allegations of fraud followed and administrators were appointed in April 2008.

The Shoreham Airport lease was then bought by Albemarle Shoreham Airport Ltd, backed by Egan Property Management, for a nominal £10.

The company tried to buy the freehold of the land last summer but the deal fell through when Brighton and Hove City Council withdrew from talks to sell its two-thirds share.

Mr Skertchly explained the way airports are funded and said any income was going to shareholders, not the airfield.

The aim, he felt, was to drive away aircraft owners by putting up the prices, then submit plans for development.

“It is a long-term game,” he said. “They can wait until the opportunity arises.

“We are probably faced with at least 20 years of vigilance unless there is a major change very soon.”

Trevor Povey also gave a talk, on the history of the airfield and its beginnings. In 1909, solicitor George Arthur Wingfield took out a six-month lease on land adjoining New Salts Farm and formed an association with amateur aviator and artist Harold Piffard.

He said: “Sadly, when I was last there, there were cracks in the walls and if they fill up with water, there is a danger they will fall off.”

The 900-yard hard runway was built at Shoreham on July 1, 1982.

“From than on, we have had a bit of a yo-yo existence,” added Mr Povey.

“I have always felt Shoreham Airport has had a place in our revered local history. I just hope that it continues for many more years.”