1. An intensification of aviation
2. A non aviation solution based on residential or commercial development; and
3. A mixed aviation/development based option.
Each of the three options had been assessed in terms of:
• Technical feasibility – including planning and infrastructure
• Financial feasibility
• Market attractiveness
• Risk; and
• Community value
A panel of Deloitte representatives presented more detail to councillors. Consultation with residents and tenants recognised the council could not continue to manage the airfield indefinitely in the current way. Without non aviation activities, the cost of the airfield to the council and its residents could be as much as £900,000 a year. Viable long term sustainability means some form of change at North Weald is therefore essential.
Deloitte presented an overview of the potential risks and rate of investment return required from aviation intensification to make it sustainable. There are significant barriers to intensification such as the proximity of Stansted Airport, the overall commercial outlook and considerable capital investment is required. Councillors also considered the community benefits of this option including protection of the heritage of the airfield which was founded in 1916 before coming to prominence in the Battle of Britain, and the local support for aviation.
Option two looked at residential development of up to 3,400 homes and associated facilities or alternatively a focus on commerce and employment, with less housing and community facilities. These approaches would see the end of aviation, the biggest investment costs in terms of the necessary infrastructure, but also the biggest return and lower levels of financial risk. Improvements to surrounding road networks would require significant investments. In particular, attention would need to be given to the A414 and M11 access.
Finally, Deloitte presented a mixed aviation and residential option with some employment, open space and community facilities. Mixed use offers many of the advantages of the earlier options but on a lower scale. Ensuring compatibility between residential development and retaining existing aviation is perhaps the biggest challenge. Careful management of the airfield would still be necessary to ensure aviation moved to a sound financial footing and did not continue to require ongoing levels of subsidy. More work will be needed to investigate the feasibility of this option.
Webcasting was suspended and members of the public were asked to leave the meeting while councillors listened to confidential commercial information including potential costs and income from each option.
Cabinet voted on each option in turn before agreeing to take forward option three for a mixed aviation and development approach for integration into the next round of public consultation on the Local Plan Preferred Options in May 2014. The decision should also be good news for the Saturday Market and many of the other non aviation businesses at North Weald which would continue to have a secure base of operations. A spokesperson for the Council said: “Employment and services for local people are two of the Council’s priorities. The option to retain aviation in combination with limited development of new homes at the airfield should also allow plenty of capacity for other businesses including the Saturday market to remain and prosper at North Weald.”