Local business could benefit from thousands of visitors to London 2012 travelling to the Olympic Games via North Weald Airfield according to its owner, Epping Forest District Council. The 380-acre site close to the M11 and public transport could provide camping facilities and a transport hub for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Among the options are Park and Ride to local rail services, temporary upgrade of the Airfield status to allow passenger flights and an approach from the Caravan Club of Great Britain for its members to stay at North Weald during the Games.
Councillor Chris Whitbread Deputy Council Leader, Chairman of North Weald Airfield Strategy Cabinet Committee and the Council`s new Business Champion is very excited by the possibilities. He said: London 2012 is a great business and cultural opportunity for Epping Forest district. The Airfield is a well-located site with a good track record of hosting and holding events.
One of the major selling points to the International Olympic Committee was to make London 2012 the Public Transport Games. Epping Forest district has eight Central Line Underground Stations. However, people will need to get to the stations and the Council is concerned about parking congestion if no extra local parking facilities are available. A well-planned Park and Ride scheme would benefit everyone by smoothing the journey for visitors and reducing parking at the stations.
Councillor Whitbread continued: North Weald also offers a potentially fast air route to the Games. Aviation tenants are asking the Council to look at temporarily licensing the Airfield for passenger flights to take some of the pressure off other Airfields.
Businesses in London have not been slow to see the opportunities. Epping Forest district is also ideally placed for the main events in Stratford and the White Water Canoeing on the River Lee at Waltham Abbey. Most London hotels are already fully booked for the duration of the Games. The Caravan Club of Great Britain holds a national rally each year and would like to hold their 2012 event close to the Olympic venues and North Weald Airfield could be the perfect place.
Councillor David Stallan voiced some concerns about the temporary nature of any Park and Ride. Councillor Whitbread assured him should a Park and Ride scheme go ahead, it would be temporary and not permanent. Councillor Di Collins Leader of the Council said she could see the benefit of Park and Ride with camping and caravanning. Councillor Jon Whitehouse was concerned to ensure very careful traffic planning would be necessary but supported the ideas in principle.
Councillor Anne Grigg Vice-Chairman of the Council felt that temporary licensing of the Airfield for passenger flights would give residents and the Council a good idea of the impact of more sustained aviation expansion. Like Councillor Stallan, her fellow North Weald Member, she had some concerns about the local impact of Park and Ride.
Councillor Chris Whitbread emphasised that agreement in principle was subject to much further investigation and consultation with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). He added: There is much detail to be discussed. Any plans would have to dovetail with the wider Olympic transport plans. We would need the go-ahead of the ODA. However, this is a potentially fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of North Weald and the district. It would earn income for Council services and create great opportunities for local business.