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1st Jul, 2022

The fight will go on says flying school amid Wellesbourne Airfield eviction dispute

THE FIGHT will go on says the flying school evicted from Wellesbourne Airfield amid a dispute over site negotiations.

The airfield’s biggest operator, Take Flight Aviation, was evicted from the site last year after it led a legal case to stop the landlord, Littler Investments, from selling the land to developers.

After the case and an appeal were lost by the tenants, which included South Warwickshire Flying School, Aeros Aviation and Touchdown Cafe, Stratford District Council (SDC) stepped in to make a compulsory purchase order (CPO) of the site to safeguard the future of general aviation. The CPO was put on hold as negotiations continued between Littler Investments and SDC over the future of the airfield which the owner wants to retain and part develop.

A ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MoU) was drawn up which included an offer of 12 month lease extensions to the businesses.

But Take Flight was not offered the extension and accused the owner of discriminating against the business for its role in the legal campaign.

The MoU included conditions the landlord must enter into dialogue with the tenants at the airfield and, if discussions were constructive, to offer the tenants new 12 month tenancies.

The school claims, because there had been no discussion between Take Flight and the landlord, the MoU was breached. But SDC continues to deny the claim.

And, during a recent question and answer session, it is claimed council deputy leader Daren Pemberton said the school was ‘frustrating the process of securing a viable future for the airfield’.

The school’s marketing manager Hana Smidy said the response ‘took her breath away’.

She said: “We were not frustrating the process, we were 50 per cent of the flying function at Wellesbourne. Our fuel and rental was £200,000 a year. We, along with other businesses, supported the maintenance function onsite, the cafe, the museum. We were very much a major part of the airfield.”

She continued to describe the school’s fund-raising efforts and support for local charities, and its work training pilots, engineers and air traffic officers.

She added: “We are not frustrating the process, we are part of the solution. The council wanted to preserve the airfield – we were onboard. I’m struggling to see how we could frustrate the process when we’ve only ever worked tirelessly to save the airfield and now our own business.

“My emotions and mindset go from ‘we’ve spent so much money, nearly £300,000 fighting – we should give up’, to ‘we cant just give up, Coventry airport is closing and there’s no other airfield serving South Warwickshire’. We have a base in Oxfordshire but it doesn’t serve members of the community we care about, the charities we have relationships with in Stratford and Warwickshire. We have a social commitment we want to uphold. Why would we give up on Wellesbourne when it seems the council’s plan is so clear – boost Wellesbourne, its village and centre, the airfield. We are a part of that, we will continue to fight.”

Take Flight owner Mike Roberts has written to the council urging it to either negotiate the business’ return to the airfield, cease the MoU agreement and continue with the CPO to allow the flight school to return, or pay compensation to the company for legal costs incurred, loss of business, and of its premises.

The owner said he would not be ‘bullied or discriminated against’ for holding the authority to account.

The Observer has approached Stratford District Council for a response.

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