Britain’s secretary of state for Communities and Local Government will rule on TAG Aviation’s appeal for permission to increase the number of movements permitted at London-area Farnborough Airport. Last June, Rushmoor Borough Council rejected an application to boost the number of movements permitted each year on weekends and holidays from 2,500 to 5,000, arguing that the associated economic benefits of the increase in business aviation traffic do not outweigh local residents’ concerns about aircraft noise.
TAG has appealed this to the country’s Planning Inspectorate and it was set to begin a four-day hearing on the issue on January 23. Its inspector, George Smith, will then report to Secretary of State Ruth Kelly, who will make the final decision.
Having the issue resolved at the highest level of national government could be good news for TAG. In December, UK aviation minister Gillian Merron told the British Business and General Aviation Association that her department acknowledges the need for an adequate network of airports for business aviation traffic. She said that the transport department will issue a national policy statement that will urge local and central government to give higher priority to keeping airports open and viable.
There is a common perception in the UK that local authorities (fearful of a political backlash from voters) routinely reject planning applications such as TAG’s, and that the decision is then overturned in the national appeals process. Kelly, a member of the Labour party, has almost nothing to lose from opposing the wishes of local voters since the area is staunchly Conservative and unlikely to switch allegiance at the next general election.
TAG’s management has expressed concern that operators unable to use Farnborough on weekends might become disenchanted with the airport generally and opt to use other London-area facilities at other times. Under the terms of TAG’s agreement with Rushmoor, Farnborough is limited to no more than 28,000 movements per year. Last year, the airport was projected to receive 21,000, an 8-percent increase on the 2005 total of 19,500. At this rate of growth, the airport will reach its movements limit in 2010.