Mystery bid to save Plymouth Airport from major development

The disused facilities at Plymouth airport
-Credit: (Image: Matt Gilley/PlymouthLive)

An application to list Plymouth Airport has been submitted to Historic England with the aim of protecting it from being built on.

In recent months the thorny issue of what could be done with the 113-acre site has been raised by both the Labour-led council and the Conservative opposition party.

If February, Plymouth City Council said it was giving SHG "one last chance" before starting legal action which could see it reclaim the land. The council claimed that Plymouth City Airport Ltd (PCAL) – a company owned wholly by SHG – was in breach of lease covenants. It said SHG had failed to reassure the council it would comply with its lease for the former Plymouth City Airport site, and has now served SHG with a formal legal notice.


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In reply, SHG denied it had breached the lease and said it plans to build houses on the site. Cllr Andy Lugger, leader of the Plymouth Plymouth City Council ’s Conservative group, said he was "incredulous" at SHG's plan arguing that it was "a land grab through the back door with no meaningful aviation on the site."

The council recently protected the former airport from development for another five years via the Plymouth and South West Devon Joint Local Plan. This month, a study by independent aviation consultants at Berkshire-based EA Maven said the airport has potential to serve millions of passengers and provide a huge economic boost to the city if reopened for flights, with consultants saying: "It would be a shame to lose the site."

However, one individual has made an application to Historic England, tasked with protecting and championing buildings sites of national importance - for the site to be listed which could alter its future.

As an example, shortly after it was suggested the Civic Centre in Plymouth be torn down in 2007, it was given listed status and thus the bulldozers were held off. The former council building was bought by Manchester-based developers Urban Splash nearly 10 years ago, but restoration projects stalled because of the complexities of the modernist building. It's now at the centre of major new plans.

The derelict Civic Centre in Plymouth
The derelict Civic Centre in Plymouth -Credit:William Telford

At this stage is it not known who applied for Plymouth Airport to be listed nor the details of what the applicant believed made the site of national historic value.

A Historic England spokesperson said: "We can confirm that we have received an application to list Plymouth Airport. We are currently considering this application. Our advice will be submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in due course."

The airport has been out of use since December 2011 when SHG triggered the Armageddon clause enabling it to stop flights if the airport was deemed uneconomic.

The airport formally opened in 1930 but the official opening did not take place until July 15, 1931, carried out by the then Prince of Wales - later Edward VIII. Commercial flights began in 1933 with Great Western Railways chartering two Westland Wessex from Imperial Airways. On the outbreak of war in 1939 the airfield was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and used for communications flights and, briefly, as a shore base for some Swordfish squadrons.

Last of the commercial flights operating at Plymouth Airport in 2011
Last of the commercial flights operating at Plymouth Airport in 2011 -Credit:Lucy Duval

Listing is the term given to the practice of listing buildings, scheduling monuments, registering parks, gardens and battlefields, and protecting wreck sites. Listing allows Historic England to highlight what is significant about a building or site, and helps to make sure that any future changes to it do not result in the loss of its significance.

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