Sunday 27 July 2008

Planning issue over Wicklow airport

PROCEEDINGS have been issued against the operator of a small private airfield in Co Wicklow over fears he is covertly transforming it into a commercial base for private jets.

John Nugent, the leaseholder of Newcastle Aerodrome – which is typically home to light aircraft – has denied the claims but refused to rule out the future possibility of higher grade aircraft landing at the facility.

"Everyone thinks there is going to be a huge international airport but come on; it's a bog in the middle of Wicklow," he told the Sunday Tribune.

However, if he fails to adhere to a warning letter sent from planning officials he could face two years in prison and a fine of up to €12.7m.

Nugent has put the complaints down to the meddling of "two or three individuals" but they were enough for Wicklow County Council to launch an onsite investigation and, finally, a warning notice last week.

The notice relates to the alleged "change of use of private airfield to commercial use without the benefit of planning permission."

"First of all it will be just flying lessons and then it will be private jets and such," said councillor Derek Mitchell, "and people don't want that."

He added: "Just like Weston (airport), it used to be a little bit commercial but then they laid down tarmac and now there are jets. It was small and amateur 30 years ago, now people pay to run private jets."

According to Nugent there are around 30 light aircraft and up to 65 members at Newcastle.

But responding to "quite a few" public complaints since he took over the lease three months ago, Wicklow County Council sent inspectors to the aerodrome. They found a number of concerns.

These included the change of use of an agricultural shed to an aircraft hangar, the provision of car parking, an onsite museum, the erection of fencing, advertising, the construction or alteration of aprons and airside roadways for aircraft and even a small refreshment area where pilots can drink tea.

The council has now officially notified Nugent of those aspects and he has four weeks in which to respond with details of what he intends to do to rectify the situation.

Failing that, the council will issue an enforcement notice obliging him to amend the issues before legal proceedings are initiated as a last resort.

A council source told the Sunday Tribune that Nugent's actions on the airfield were akin to using a house as a hotel.

Nugent then said that trying to operate a commercial airport in the Newcastle Aero­­drome was akin to hosting the Irish Open golf tournament on a pitch and putt course.

"There is absolutely nothing going on," he said.

"We have airplane activity and there are two or three residents trying to stir it. But it's a storm in a tea cup."

Nugent insists the fencing is to keep cows off the runway and, as an Irish man, he likes to offer his pilots a cup of tea when they land.

"I am chasing a dream here; this is not about a commercial operation."

Sunday Tribune

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