Council leader facing opposition over plans for Alconbury airport

ALCONBURY should become home to a major international passenger or freight airport, a Government planning inspector has been told. Peterborough City Council s leader, Councillor Ben Franklin, told the examination in public of the East of England regional

ALCONBURY should become home to a major international passenger or freight airport, a Government planning inspector has been told.

Peterborough City Council's leader, Councillor Ben Franklin, told the examination in public of the East of England "regional spatial strategy" that developing one of the world's longest runways into a commercial airport would attract much-needed investment in infrastructure.

But, when Cllr Franklin's plan was first revealed exclusively in The Hunts Post in July last year, it was ridiculed by council planners in Huntingdonshire.

Huntingdonshire District Council opposes the resumption of flying at the former RAF base used by the United States Air Force during the Cold War, and for a number of operational sorties in the 1990s.

HDC wanted the site for mixed industrial use but, two years ago, lost an appeal against refusal to allow Alconbury Development Limited to build a rail-connected freight terminal there.

The conditions put on ADL are so restrictive that the freight terminal is unlikely to be built - and the developer has asked the regional assembly to include 2,000 homes on the site.

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The principal hurdle - among more than 70 conditions and sub-conditions - is that, before any building on the site can be occupied, a link to the east coast main line railway must be built.

Councillor Franklin told The Hunts Post last year that his plan made sense - as Huntingdonshire is earmarked for 11,200 new homes by 2021, just as 20,000 are set for Peterborough.

The city is looking for ways to expand even further and is hoping Alconbury will provide a major source of jobs.

"I have told the Regional Assembly that Huntingdon has one of the finest airports in the country, with the amount of money that has been spent on the runway. The Tarmac is so good you could use it as a bowling green."

But Peterborough would not foot the bill to buy ADL out of its planning consent. That would be for central government, Cllr Franklin said.

"Alconbury is ideally situated and has all the infrastructure. It would be a wonderful thing for us," he said. "I know there will be a hell of a lot of people who won't want it, but we need it to support what we want to do. It would support Huntingdon as well. It will support jobs.

"The airport is more important than a rail-connected freight terminal, and it would be no more noisy than when the Americans were using it. We have told the regional assembly and are preparing a detailed case. We are all in it together."

However that would not appear to be the case.

"We don't support the idea of another London airport being built at Alconbury," said Councillor Nick Guyatt, executive councillor for planning strategy at HDC. "We've done the research, and nobody other than Ben Franklin wants it."

HDC says Alconbury should provide a variety of jobs to discourage people from commuting to Cambridge, Peterborough or London to work.

Of the roughly 1,000 acres the airfield occupies, less than half is usable for development. If the ADL plan does not go ahead, HDC would prefer to see mixed commercial and industrial use at the site, perhaps based around a new business park with some warehousing.

Residential development would require 10,000 homes to be sustainable, with their own schools. But the transport network would be inadequate, and the whole site would be needed for housing.

However, the Government has already ruled out Alconbury as a site for an international airport, and low-cost operators have in the past said they do not want to fly from there.

Cllr Franklin said the city council was prepared to part-fund a study into the feasibility of an airport development, if other funds were made available by the East of England Regional Assembly and the Government Office for the East (GO-East).

He also supported HDC's opposition to housing development at Alconbury because it would compete with growth plans for Huntingdon and Hampton in Peterborough.

Cllr Franklin told the examination panel that Alconbury could be developed sooner and at less cost than a second runway at Stansted, although Alconbury should not be seen as competing with Stansted's status as a major international airport.

"Development of an airport at Alconbury will bring considerable economic benefits to the region as a whole but in particular to Huntingdon and Peterborough, which are part of the London-Stansted-Cambridge-Peter-borough growth corridor," he said.

INFORMATION: The spatial strategy will replace the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan and other frameworks for all counties in the region. Any proposed changes to the draft plan will be published in late 2006 and the final strategy will be published in spring 2007.