THREAT to national security and a dramatic walk-out by a councillor were the talking points as the long-running saga of a Thurrock airfield drew towards a conclusion.

The latest meeting of Thurrock Council’s planning committee has given approval to a package of measures surrounding controversial businessman Terry Holding’s airfield at Parkers Farm Road, Orsett.

On a night of drama local councillor Mike Revell walked out on the meeting claiming local people were being gagged – but by doing so missed the opportunity to speak on their behalf during the debate that followed.

He came in for heavy criticism from councillors, including members of his own Conservative group for his actions prior to a series of debates that included discussion on threats to national security by terrorists using the airfield.

Mr Holding’s counsel, barrister Kevin Leigh, told the meeting that the airfield was a prime site for terrorists to infiltrate the country because of its proximity to Europe and it was essential that the council gave permission for a mobile home on the site to become a permanent fixture to allow 24/7 security on the site.

In return for the permission, and other concessions by the council - including granting approval for a 720 hard surface runway and an extension to Mr Holding’s own home – Mr Leigh said the airfield would be operated under restrictions laid down by councillors.

The airfield has been a longstanding controversial issue for the council since 1999, with Mr Holding taking several planning decisions and enforcement notices to appeal but after Thursday’s meeting, peace appears to have broken out.

At the opening of discussion on Mr Holding’s applications, councillor Revell informed committee chairman Stuart St Clair Haslam that he did not believe that the Orsett Community Forum has been properly consulted and asked for discussion on the applications to be deferred.

He was told that there had been adequate notice of the applications and ample opportunity for comments to be received and when he tried to speak, he was ruled out of order by the meeting chairman and told, as a ward councillor, he could only speak during actual debate on each of the four applications.

At that point councillor Revell walked out.

When the debate began Mr Leigh said: “The time has finally come that the council can fully get hold of the airfield with restrictions it has wanted since 1999.

“My client is prepared to give the council what it wants in return for co-operation on some matters.”

He went on to explain that the mobile building on the site was required to be upgraded to be the residence of people responsible for security on the site. “People in that mobile home have to make sure that the airfield is not abused by somebody,” he said.

“This is an unmanned airfield relatively close to Europe. It would be easy for terrorists to fly in and drop off, and from here it is easy to fly in and out of controlled airspace.”

Councillor St Clair Haslam then opened debate by saying: “It is a matter for councillor Revell that he left the chamber without making representations on behalf of his residents,” and other councillors were then critical of the Orsett ward councillor’s actions.

Councillor Barry Palmer picked up on a potential terrorist threat, saying: “There is a national security issue here and exceptional circumstances because of that.” Later in the debate he added: It’s about time we got our heads round this, the applicants have compromised, we should compromise and stop making heavy weather of this. We should be proud to have this activity in Thurrock, we are trying to push the borough forwards, not backwards.”

Councillor Gerard Rice said: "Where is the problem? The applicant is being more than generous."

Councillor Barry Lawrence, who described dealing with Kings Farm as “wading through a lot of chocolate” added: “This is an issue we have been going on about for more years than I care to remember. This is an airfield, not Thurrock International.

"I am quite disappointed that we have not had the views of the residents of Orsett and Bulphan because the local councillor chose not to tell us but now is the time for us to control this airstrip for the residents.

"This is now the perfect place for us to stop.”

Councillor Lawrence was the only councillor to vote against one of the four applications, a proposal for an extension to Mr Holding’s home.

That, and plans for the hardsurfaced runway, the stationing of the mobile home and changes to the use of land near an aircraft hanger for domestic use, were all approved.

In return a number of conditions have been imposed on the airfield.

These include:
There shall be no micro-light or helicopter movements except in an emergency; there will be no training flights; there will be no more than four flights in or out of the airfield between 11pm and 7am except in an emergency; there will be no more than 50 flights in or out of the airfield in any day; no more than 11 aircraft will be allowed in covered storage and no more than 14 outside; there will be no more than one air show a year and that will be limited between 9am and 7pm.