. . . as airfield plans go back to square one

THE report and the results of the public examination effectively puts the future of Alconbury airfield back into limbo. Huntingdonshire District Council several years ago refused planning consent for a huge rail-linked freight terminal at the former RAF,

THE report and the results of the public examination effectively puts the future of Alconbury airfield back into limbo.

Huntingdonshire District Council several years ago refused planning consent for a huge rail-linked freight terminal at the former RAF, and more recently US air force, base close to the A1 and A14.

After a lengthy planning inquiry, the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister allowed the appeal two years ago, but attached a total of 78 conditions to the consent that made the scheme to all intents and purposes unbuildable.

The most onerous was that no building could be occupied in the development until the hugely expensive link to the East Coast main line was in place. That would have cost hundreds of millions of pounds and, with the number of paths for freight increasingly limited by additional passenger trains on the main line, it looked unattractive to potential backers.


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At the time, the Strategic Rail Authority - whose functions have been subsumed into the Department for Transport - was looking at removing several bottlenecks on the line where the four-track railway is reduced to two - notably at the tunnels and viaduct at Welwyn North, across Holme Fen and stretches north of Peterborough.

But those plans were shelved for cost reasons following a review of the line capacity and a strategy for its future use.

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Faced with this, Alconbury Development Limited, which has agreement in principle to buy the land from the Ministry of Defence, suggested to the East of England Assembly that 2,000 to 3,000 homes could be included in the regional plan.

In the meantime, Peterborough City Council had suggested the site as an international passenger airport.

The ODPM decision, together with these later plans - largely torpedoed in the new report - had HDC up in arms.

Not only did the ODPM saddle Council Tax payers with appeal costs of over £1million but, if HDC had attached the same conditions to the consent, it would have been acting unlawfully.

The council rubbished the plan for housing as being unsustainable: a sustainable community is normally reckoned to be at least 10,000 homes, sufficient to justify a secondary school, several primary schools, decent transport links and jobs for the new population.

The airport idea was seen as a cynical ploy to boost Peterborough's economy at the expense of Huntingdonshire's - the city's residents would shop in Peterborough and pay tax to the city with money earned in Hunts. No, thanks, said HDC, and the report's authors agreed.

Where we go from here remains to be seen.

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