RAF Coltishall to become aircraft recycling site

Flying is set to be revived at Norfolk's axed RAF Coltishall airbase, which is poised to become a centre for recycling jet airliners.

Three hundred new jobs and an apprenticeship scheme will give an employment boost to the area under plans led by a Stansted-based firm which has been selected as the bidder to revive the historic site.

Ageing airliners would land on the 1.62 mile runway and be stripped of any useful parts in the 232,000 sq ft of hangar space at the base, which opened as a fighter station in 1940. The 650 acre site has remained empty since it closed in 2006, although part of it was used to build the HMP Bure prison in November 2009.

Yesterday the Ministry of Justice which owns the whole airfield, confirmed that a consortium led by engineering firm TAG Aviation (Stansted) had become the preferred bidder.

The firm beat rival bids including those from WCD, which intended to run an air-taxi service, and Aylsham Growers, which planned to build a methane power station.

Around one plane a day would land at the site, ready for being taken apart in the hangars, and the parts shipped out by road.

Andy Verdon, speaking on behalf of TAG Aviation (Stansted), said: 'We'll be parking aircraft on the dispersals where the Jaguars were parked, and they'll be deconstructing them inside the hangars.

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'It will be doing exactly what Coltishall was designed for, except in reverse,' he added.

He said that the work would not be 'ball and chain demolition', but a highly skilled engineering operation. There is also potential to use the site to store aircraft owned by leasing firms and not currently needed.

'We can do a lot of training up of people. We intend to set up an apprentice scheme because we need a sustainable work force.'

The company now needs to get planning permission from North Norfolk District Council to operate the site, and will hold a public consultation as part of that process.

The Ministry of Justice is now in talks with the company to agree terms and hopes that the sale will be complete in the spring.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb welcomed the proposal as being 'perfect' for the site. He said: 'This is stunning news. It gives a real shot in the arm to the rural economy.

'The local community was strongly supportive of that proposal. It's a wonderful combination of utilising the runway without the attendant problems of planes constantly taking off and landing, and the potential for job creation is really exciting at a time when we need a boost to the local economy.'

There was also local backing for the scheme from Glyn Williams, chairman of the Coltishall Eco Town Action Group (CETAG), which was initially set up to oppose previous plans to build environmentally friendly homes on the site.

He said: 'I'm pleased TAG have been successful. They took the time to engage with people about their ideas.

'Their scheme includes 300 jobs, which is a significant economic benefit.

'Our job is basically done now. It was a fine example of local communities having a voice in a major initiative.'

Steve Blatch, strategic director at North Norfolk District Council, said the news was 'pleasing and encouraging'.

In November 2009 the prison recruited 387 people to run the site,

Both sites, the prison and TAG Aviation (Stansted), together will still employ fewer than half of the 1,800 people who were previously employed at RAF Coltishall.