Decision on Norwich International Airport is vital to city’s economy, say bosses

Aerial view of Norwich International Airport. City councillors will make a decision today over propo

Aerial view of Norwich International Airport. City councillors will make a decision today over proposals for an engine testing facility there. - Credit: Supplied

A decision will be made today on whether an engine testing enclosure can be built at Norwich International Airport, which business bosses say is vital to its future.

The airport has applied to Norwich City Council for the go-ahead to build the testing site on the eastern side of the airport, in the hope of ending a saga which saw planning permission for a previous scheme quashed by the High Court.

Andrew Bell, right, chief executive at the airport, said the engine testing facility was vital to prevent major employer KLM UK from basing its operation elsewhere.

Paul Chün, boss of KLM UK, which employs 350 staff and up to a 100 contract workers, had previously warned the firm might be forced to pull out of the city if the £1.2m plan falls through.

And Mr Bell said: 'I cannot over emphasise the importance of being able to end this uncertainty. We have to be able, if we are to move forward as an airport, to be able to demon-strate to existing business tenants and to potential tenants that we have a stable and regulated environment.

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'KLM UK are our biggest onsite employers and they absolutely rely on being able to test engines. What we are trying to do with this application is to recognise our obligation to all our stakeholders.

'We know we need to be good neighbours and we take that very seriously, but we also need to provide a competitive market for KLM to operate in.'

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He said most up-to-date technology would reduce the noise from the engine testing, which already goes on at the airport, that the site had been specially picked to have an impact on the fewest possible people and that the number of days testing does happen would be limited to between 8am and 8pm, with guaranteed no testing on a 100 days a year.

Permission for an engine testing site at the former fire training site at the airport was approved by city councillors back in 2010.

But Gill Cook and her husband Peter, who own Quaker Farm in Quaker Lane, Spixworth, and the holiday cottages on a nearby farm won the right to a judicial review into that decision.

The judicial review succeeded, with the High Court quashing the permission which had been granted because the council had failed to consider, in agreeing the application, what would happen had they refused it.

That led to this fresh application, which has sparked further objections, including from people living nearby who are unhappy at the noise which will be generated.

A number of nearby parish councils have commented, with Sprowston, Taverham, Spixworth and Old Catton among those to offer no objection.

Horsham and Newton St Faiths Parish Council said they could not support the application unless restrictions were placed on the times testing is allowed.

Officers are recommending that members of Norwich City Council's planning committee grant permission when the committee meets at City Hall today.

In the report which will come before councillors, officers state: 'It is considered that, in view of the strong policy encouragement for growth of the airport and scale of the economic impact relative to the length of time disturbance, considerable weight should be afforded to the economic benefits associated with engine tests in determining the application.'

The officers recommend that a string of conditions are attached. including that no engine tests can be done outside the hours of 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturdays or 9am to 8pm on Sundays and public holidays.

Other conditions are that there shall be no engine tests on at least 100 days each year and the airport must make available a publicly viewable log of when tests will be scheduled. Caroline Williams, chief executive of the NorfolK Chamber of Commerce, said she hoped the planning committee would recognise the importance to the local economy of the proposals.

She said: 'Norwich is doing really well and expanding, but we can't take it for granted. Difficult decisions need to made to support businesses which are willing to maintain and expand at a time when it can be quite tricky to do so.

'I would hope that the community will support the airport's endeavours to maintain and increase the number of jobs which are so needed at this time.'

The airport last year unveiled its 10-year plan for expansion, which bosses say could create up to 1,000 jobs.

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