RAF St Athan to be turned into civilian airfield by 2019 under Welsh Government plans

Proposal sparks row as Tory MP claims it would mean demolishing local buildings

MOD RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan

The Welsh Government plans to turn RAF St Athan into a civilian airfield – but already stands accused by a Tory MP of messing the project up.

The RAF is due to hand over operational control of the airfield to private contractors Serco in December, when it will operate seven days a week from 9am to 5pm.

But Conservative MP David Davies says a letter he has received from a UK Government Minister suggests all is not well at St Athan, which forms part of the St Athan-Cardiff Airport Enterprise Zone.

Gallery: When RAF St Athan celebrated 75  years (1938 – 2013)

On Monday, the Welsh Government issued a statement saying that Serco had been appointed “to meet the exacting demands of the diverse and growing client base operating from St Athan”.

The statement said: “In operating the Airfield Operating Service (AOS), all aspects of running the airfield are included, from the issue of aviation fuel to the provision of fire cover, ensuring the vehicles are serviceable and able to safely execute the transmission of Air Traffic Control instructions with all its constituent parts.”

Some 28 jobs are being created, including a number for ex-RAF personnel.

Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: “We want the Enterprise Zone to be an ongoing success and I am pleased we have been able to respond to the needs of businesses operating on the Park and ensure they have the environment and infrastructure for growth.”

But Mr Davies, who represents Monmouth, released a letter he has received from Defence Minister Anna Soubry, which says: “Welsh Government officials’ intent was that Serco, their appointed contractor, would provide seven day airfield operating services from July 1, full vesting day. However, as Serco was unable to provide sufficient Air Traffic Control personnel by July 1, the RAF is providing additional control services to enable limited seven day airfield operations.”

Ms Soubry goes on to say that an Instrument Landing System bought by the Welsh Government “can only be fully commissioned once a number of houses and buildings are demolished, as they infringe the Instrument Landing System safety footprint”. The airfield will be functional by 2019.

Monmouth Conservative MP Mr Davies said: “The Welsh Government has a lot of explaining to do. I am aware that they have been going round air shows promising companies they will be able to use St Athan virtually 24/7, yet that is far from the case. It seems that one proposed contract fell through because the company supposed to be supplying air traffic controllers wasn’t able to find enough.

“It also seems the Welsh Government has bought some sophisticated landing gear that it won’t be able to use for five years because there are some buildings in the way. I’ve no idea how much this gear cost, but you can bet it was a great deal more than a SatNav system from Halfords.”

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “We are working with the Ministry of Defence to develop the commercial potential of St Athan airfield. The long-term intention is for St Athan to operate as a civilian airfield from 2019.”

Sourced from walesonline

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