BBC revelation overshadows councillors’ Filton Airfield debate

Posted on Thursday 20th October 2011 at 4:32 pm by SH (Editor)

First landing of the Airbus A380 at Filton Airfield, Bristol

Filton Airfield, earmarked for closure at the end of 2012 by its owner BAE Systems, made £1.3m profit in 2010, the BBC has revealed.

The news has angered campaigners who would like to see the airfield kept operational because the company described the facility as “unviable” when justifying its decision to close it at the end of 2012.

The news was revealed last night as South Gloucestershire councillors debated a Labour motion calling on the authority to commit to blocking a change of use for the airfield site.

It is believed the BBC obtained the information from accounts lodged at Companies House.

A BAE Systems spokesperson claimed the 2010 result was an unsustainable anomaly, the airfield having made a loss for four of the last five years.

The company said it was unable to explain, on grounds of commercial confidentiality, why the airfield suddenly became profitable in 2010, but provided the following statement to The Post:

“As the owner and operator, BAE Systems has repeatedly said that Filton Airfield has been loss-making over the last decade in spite of concerted efforts to increase its usage through marketing. This situation was forecast when its high level of fixed costs were highlighted during the public enquiry some 15 years ago, during an attempt to sustainably increase use of the airfield and make it viable into the long term by introducing limited scheduled commercial flights. However as history records, this plan was turned down at public enquiry and dismissed on appeal.”

“The airfield has cost BAE Systems well over £2 million in losses in the last five years alone – around half a million a year on average (including 2010). Yes, it made a profit in 2010 however that profit is not as great as the loss two years previously, neither is that profit sustainable, so the airfield would still continue to be unviable even if it were to continue into the future. As a public limited company accountable to its shareholders, sustaining the poor financial position in relation to the airfield is unviable and unacceptable to BAE Systems.”

“Aircraft movements did not increase in 2010 to account for the profit, indeed they continued to decline, however BAE Systems is contractually bound not to disclose details of its dealings with individual customers or suppliers so cannot go into detail why 2010 saw an increase in revenue. The key points however are that the profit made in that year is small in comparison to previous losses over a decade or even five years, and in any event that profit is not sustainable. Consequently, the mutual decision to close the runway at the end of 2012 was made by the owner BAE Systems and the runway’s prime user Airbus, as announced last April.”

The spat over profit and loss figures overshadowed last night’s debate at a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council, where a Labour councillor had called on the council to commit “not to proceed with policies or actions that would facilitate development on the airfield”.

With the council’s public consultation on the future of the airfield still in progress (it ends on Monday 24th October), Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors forced the motion to be re-worded to:

“Council believes that people who live and work in South Gloucestershire should contribute their opinions on the site and its importance before any decision is made as to the future of the airfield, and strongly encourages all local people to submit their views both to the ongoing consultation, and the further consultations planned.”

Labour councillors speaking after the meeting branded the amended resolution a “meaningless cop-out”.

Labour Group Leader Councillor Andy Perkins (Labour, Woodstock) said:

“The other parties have shown a complete failure of leadership on this issue and have let residents down. The future of Filton Airfield is one of the biggest issues facing South Gloucestershire yet the Tories and Lib Dems are not willing to offer an opinion about the future of the site. I am embarrassed by their actions, and they should be ashamed.”

Local councillor Ian Scott (Labour, Filton), who proposed the original wording, added:

“This is a slap in the face for the people of Filton and Patchway, and indeed the whole district. There is a groundswell of opposition to the airfield’s closure and redevelopment, and many of us remain unconvinced that the site is unviable if the will was there. Our communities were asking their council to support them, but instead the Tory and Liberal Democrat councillors have voted through a meaningless cop-out which expresses no commitment or even an opinion.”

Conservative councillors criticised the Labour Group for attempting to “torpedo” the public consultation.

As part of a major statement to all councillors, Cllr Brian Allinson, Conservative Cabinet Member for Planning, said:

“We are carrying out an extensive and thorough consultation.”

“In total, around 400 people took the time to come to one of the three drop-in exhibitions that have been held – the last of which happened on Monday.”

“This consultation period runs until 24th October and we will need time to review what people have said.”

“It would be quite wrong and set a dangerous precedent to torpedo the consultation halfway through.”

Responding to proposals from Labour councillors that could increase the numbers of flights in and out of the airfield to improve its viability, Cllr Keith Cranney (Con, Stoke Gifford) said:

“On behalf of the residents that I represent – many of whom live under the airfield’s flight path – I would like to raise concerns with many of the comments made by Labour councillor about increasing the number of flights in and out of Filton.”

“Their plan seems to be for a new Bristol International Airport in all but name.”

Cllr Trevor Jones (Con, Frenchay & Stoke Park) added:

“I would like to remind members that there are two sides to every story and, as always, a silent majority! The residents of Filton and Patchway do not live directly under the flight path, but many of my neighbours and the residents I represent do, and they don’t want significantly increased air movements over them, day and night!”

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