A Planning Inspector recently delivered a long-awaited decision following an appeal under Section 78 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. The appeal was lodged following non-determination by Wiltshire Council over a site for major housing development in Old Sarum Airfield, in one of the original ‘rotten boroughs’ of Old Sarum.

The Facts

This appeal site had almost everything. A long and intriguing history dating back to WW1, many failed attempts by the Appellant to build housing, many experts on both sides, a real tussle over policy interpretation and much more besides. The airfield in Old Sarum was designated a Conservation Area in 2007 and included three (still functioning!) former WWI aircraft hangars listed as Grade II. Today, the Airfield operates as a commercial/civilian airfield, including leisure and training flights. The Wiltshire Core Strategy (CS) Core Policy 25 supported the principle of new development at the Airfield but sought to strike an appropriate balance between the flying activity and the amenity of the residents of Salisbury.

The Appeal

The main issue at the appeal was therefore whether the proposed development to build approximately 462 residential dwellings would preserve and/or enhance the character or appearance of Old Sarum Airfield Conservation Area, the Stratford sub Castle Conservation Area, and whether it would preserve the setting and architectural and historic interest of the listed buildings on the Airfield, in particular the hangars, along with the impact on the Old Sarum Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) [DL18].

The Decision

Dismissing the appeal, even when the benefits were taken into consideration, the Inspector found that the proposed development would erode the open character and appearance of the Airfield Conservation Area, the setting of the listed hangars and that of the Old Sarum Scheduled Ancient Monument.

Commenting on this following an extensive site visit, she said,

“…when standing on the ramparts of the hillfort overlooking the Airfield, it was easy to imagine the defensive efforts of the military who operated there undertaking sorties during both the First and Second World Wars and the debt of gratitude owed by this Nation to those men and women who served there.”[DL 26]

The Aftermath

The Inspector carefully noted in her decision the Appellant’s fall-back position: namely the maintenance of flying at Old Sarum Airfield would be secure even if planning permission was not granted. [DL 60). In a twist following the decision by the Inspector, two weeks later aircraft owners were given notice to leave Old Sarum Airfield, as reported in the Salisbury Journal.

With over 100 years’ worth of history, it remains unclear at the time of writing what the future of this historic airfield will now be.

Hashi Mohamed acted on behalf of Wiltshire Council.