Why planes could return to Coltishall airbase

Ed FossPlanes could make a return to Norfolk's historic Battle of Britain former airbase, bringing hundreds of new jobs and a multi-million-pound boost to the local economy.Ed Foss

Planes could make a return to Norfolk's historic Battle of Britain former airbase, bringing hundreds of new jobs and a multi-million-pound boost to the local economy.

Airliners and private jets, rather than the fighter planes of days gone by, could generate more than 300 jobs at the former RAF Coltishall.

The plans for a specialist decomm-issioning and storage facility for civil aircraft are at an early stage.

But the principle has gone down well with local politicians concerned about other suggested uses, which have included an eco-town or an immigration detention centre.

Getting the plan off the ground would hinge on whether the 600 acres that remain of the base are put up for sale as expected by the owners, the Ministry of Justice - and on whether international aviation business TAG Aviation (Stansted), which is behind the plans, can beat off other tenders and planning consent can be secured.

A small part of the old base, about 30 acres, has already been converted into a prison, which opened to inmates at the end of November.

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Last night, one of the businessmen behind the new project, former

RAF air commodore and aerospace consultant Andrew Verdon,

pictured below right, told the EDP that the business was well established, well connected and had a good international reputation.

"It's important to stress this is

hi-tech work, not a scrapyard," Mr Verdon said. "People hear about this kind of work and think along the lines of a lead ball and chain used to knock houses down. It's not like that at all: it is about recovering high-value items very carefully.

"We call it surgical deconstruction."

Mr Verdon has already begun consulting locally about the plans, including meeting or arranging to meet representatives of Norfolk County Council, North Norfolk District Council, the Coltishall Eco- Town Action Group (Cetag), North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson.

According to the backers, the plan would deliver:

323 full-time skilled and semi-skilled jobs.

Training schemes and appren-ticeship programmes that would be linked in with local colleges.

Retention of the airbase's heritage.

Fewer traffic movements than when the RAF base was operational.

Little need for change at the site, because it would use what was there already, such as hangars, the runway and technical areas.

Glyn Williams, chairman of Cetag, said the project appeared to "press all the right buttons". He added: "It is early days, and we are looking at this only in principle, but this is a well-established company which has said it will preserve heritage, bring in jobs, help the economy, leave the

site pretty much as it is and not put too much pressure on infra-structure.

"Overall, it seems a good option, a very exciting scheme."

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: "It is potentially very exciting, a rather remarkable situation

which uses the fact it is an airfield without using it as a fully-working airfield in terms of air movements.

"It appears to achieve the best of all worlds in terms of reuse of the site as it is, jobs, the local economy and heritage; and the fact that the business involved has already started consulting with people so well is exemplary."

The site would not become a working airport, stressed Mr Verdon, with a projected average of one

take-off or landing a day.

Boeing 737s would form most of the work. They would be flown in, parked in one of the four existing hangars and carefully taken apart before being packed off into 20ft trailers, driven away and the scrap metal and valuable spare parts sold.

Unlike the vast majority of proposals for the former airbase, the project would take on the entire remnants of the site.

RAF Coltishall was closed as an operational RAF base in 2006 after the government announced in

2004 that it was surplus to requirements.