North Weald Airfield is sited on what is currently greenbelt land. Courtesy Arthur Moreton, North Weald Airfield Museum.
An historic Essex airfield which saw action in both world wars could be lost forever under the latest planning proposals for the area.
North Weald Airfield, which played a crucial role in the Battle of Britain and is still active, could soon be the scene of a battle over a controversial development plan for 6,000 houses.
The East of England Regional Assembly is currently taking comments from the public on its 'Draft Regional Spatial Strategy for the East of England' – but time is running out with the deadline for public consultation set at March 16.
“Basically, the report states that it will become part of Harlow,” said Arthur Moreton, Vice President of North Weald Airfield Museum. “The community that exists now of 1,700 houses will become something like 8,000.”
The museum will be spared, but the airfield to which it is devoted may be lost. Courtesy Arthur Moreton, North Weald Airfield Museum.
The plan, set to become policy in the next few years, recommends an industrial area and a park and ride scheme for Stansted airport on the airfield and surrounding land, although it is currently designated as greenbelt land. If the plan goes ahead, it will almost certainly mean an end to flying and other activities for which the airfield is currently used, such as a Saturday market and motorsports.
A museum devoted to the airfield is housed in the former RAF North Weald Station Office: the RAF moved out in 1964. Mr Moreton has been assured by Epping Forest Council, which owns the building and airfield, that the museum and the war memorial in front of it will be safe.
“We’ve been told by the council that we’ll be okay,” he said. “The building’s been there for 100 years, covering all the years the airfield has been active.”
In addition, one of the original hangars should soon have a preservation order put on it, as the officers’ mess already has. English Heritage is looking into ways to protect the dozen or so revetments.
A Sea Hurricane at the airfield. Courtesy Arthur Moreton, North Weald Airfield Museum.
Despite this, users of the airfield and local residents are in uproar at the thought of losing the airfield, established in 1916 to protect London from Zeppelin air raids.
“There’s been flying there for 90 years,” explained Mr Moreton, “we don’t want that to stop.” However, he emphasised that it is, above all, local heritage that is at stake.
“It’s become a living memorial to the 266 people that died there, from seven nations,” he told the 24 Hour Museum.
The first fighter pilot to be killed in the Second World War took off from North Weald, which played host to squadrons including Americans, Poles, Czechs and Norwegians. To this day, the airfield and nearby village of North Weald Bassett maintain a special link to Norway.
North Weald was at the frontline during the Battle of Britain. Courtesy Arthur Moreton, North Weald Airfield Museum.
“We will fight every inch of the way,” said Mr Moreton. “It’s become a part of the community and we’re gutted we’re going to lose it.”
A campaign has been launched to preserve North Weald Airfield, click here to find out more.