Bromley Council has asked interested parties to engage in a public consultation on Biggin Hill Airport Limited's (BHAL) request for changes to its Lease so that it can present a broader range of travel options for visitors during the Olympic Games. Changes to the Lease are a matter for the Council to decide. As the Member of Parliament for Orpington, I have no direct role in this matter, but on behalf of my constituents, many of whom have contacted me in relation to the consultation, I would like to make the following points:
· BHAL, as the tenant, needs the Council's permission to extend its hours and to amend other conditions outlined in the lease and operating schedules. It is important to remember that the primary reason the Council originally purchased the freehold was to protect residents' interests and to ensure that the airport continues to be viable. It is critical that the Council strikes the right balance in serving these potentially conflicting goals over the coming years.
· BHAL would like to extend operating hours by an hour on weekdays so that the hours would be 06.30 to 23.00. Weekend hours would be from 06.30 to 23.00, changed from the existing 09.00 to 20.00 hours. The period covers both the Olympics and the Paralympics and time for travel before and after these events. There are also other changes such as a temporary change to the ban on fare paying passengers for so-called air taxi users and a passenger tax of £3 payable to the Council as the landlord.
· I am proud that Biggin Hill wants to contribute to the Olympic effort and to play its part in an important event in our nation's history. To the extent that it can take advantage of the commercial opportunities presented by the Olympics within the scope of the existing lease, I am highly supportive of it doing so. I am, however, strongly opposed to any temporary changes to the lease that could at a later date be construed to have set a precedent justifying wider variations to the lease.
· Under the terms of the Lease, which were determined by the Appeal Court in 2002 at considerable expense to Bromley taxpayers, the running of scheduled services and transportation of individual fare paying passengers requires the explicit permission of the landlord. I fear that if the prohibition on fare-paying passengers is lifted, even temporarily, Bromley Council will be running a grave risk of undermining a fundamentally important point of principle.
· This could potentially pave the way for further legal challenges by BHAL in favour of continued use by scheduled services and fare paying passengers, compounding residents' fears that the airport will develop into another Luton. The proposed quid pro quo – a passenger tax and reduction in the number of permitted movements from 125,000 to 80,000 – would not prevent a potential shift in the mix of flights away from hobbyists and small aircraft towards larger, and probably noisier, planes.
· Such a transformation would in my view be undesirable. I believe it is preferable for the airport to develop organically as a business and executive airport with major capabilities in service and maintenance facilities for this market, capitalizing on its existing reputation as a centre of excellence for aviation services. It is inappropriate, given the population density of areas under the flightpath and the limitations of local infrastructure, for BHAL to seek become a major passenger airport.
In conclusion, Biggin Hill airport has been around almost since the dawn of aviation, played a historic role in the Second World War and has an important part to play in the local economy in the years ahead. To fulfil its potential, it needs to co-exist in harmony with the large residential communities (not to mention local businesses and hospitals) that lie nearby. I therefore urge the Council to give the views of my constituents, particularly those under the flightpath in the Petts Wood and Farnborough & Crofton wards, the greatest possible weight in its deliberations.