Historic airfield wants to restore heritage ‘Hangar 3’ to former glory after years of damage from heavy machinery operating in nearby industrial estate
The owners of Salisbury’s historic Old Sarum Airfield are set to launch legal action against Phoenix Life who were the freeholder of a building located near their own historic Grade II* listed Belfast Truss hangar, known as ‘Hangar 3’.
Phoenix Life allowed their tenants, Equinox International, to operate heavy steel cutting machinery, a “Colgar Shear”, which created low frequency sound and ground vibrations for over 15 years.
Back in 2011, specialist consultants advised council planners that the noise and vibration caused by the Shear was an issue for adjoining structures, including the new homes planned and built by Persimmon and others surrounding the airfield. Wiltshire Council’s own environmental protection team also warned that “residents of these new properties may be in a position where the use and enjoyment of their homes is significantly impacted”.
Despite the concerns of local residents, Wiltshire Council allowed Equinox International to operate the machinery initially unlimited from 1999, however following a lawsuit brought by the Council the company agreed to reduce its use to 10 hours a day 5 days a week before the company finally left the site in 2016 to avoid legal action by the airfield. Equinox admitted to causing structural damage in the area due to transmission of the vibrations through the chalk.
Fast forward five years and the legacy of this heavy duty activity on the neighbouring Belfast Truss hangar is very evident. Damage to the wooden hangar which was built in 1917 is extensive and will require significant investment to put right.
It was always understood by the council that the complete restoration of the hangar could only be funded as part of its 2015 planning application which also included 460 homes as well as a brand new custom made building for the Royal Aeronautical Society to house its complete aviation collection (moving from Farnborough airfield). This application was refused by Wiltshire Council.
The airfield owners commissioned a review of the hangar in 2016 by restoration experts James Carroll Ltd, who have successfully refurbished other identical Belfast Truss hangars at two separate sites in the UK. They estimated that it would cost around £3m to return the building to its original 1917 condition. Those costs will have now increased. In addition the airfield has suffered millions of pounds in lost revenue as a result of being unable to use the hangar due to dilapidation of the ancient wooden structure caused by the Colgar Shear vibrations.
A spokesperson for Old Sarum Airfield said, “We have always maintained that heavy machinery causing well documented ground borne vibration operating next door to our vulnerable hangar for many years has had a hugely detrimental effect on the state of our historic building and we were surprised that Wiltshire Council allowed this situation to continue for so long despite the advice from their own experts.
With our development proposals denied by the Council, in order to restore Hangar 3, we now are seeking rightful compensation from the freeholder (Phoenix Life) who are ultimately responsible for the actions of their tenants (Equinox International), hence we are commencing legal action. Our aim has always been to return Hangar 3 back to its former glory so it can once again be used to store aircraft as it was designed to do back in 1917 and we are committed to prioritising the funds we recoup for this purpose.
The Old Sarum Airfield is of great historical significance and we are trying to do everything within our power to protect and enhance it for future generations. Wiltshire Council claim to be strong supporters of heritage assets, which is why we are amazed and saddened that the Council hid the 2011 report from us and has recently allowed a large scale scrap metal recycling operation in a heritage site in a conservation area.”
Gary Squires or Vicky Windsor, Creatrix PR
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Originally built in 1917, Old Sarum Airfield was one of 65 airfields built across the UK to help train pilots to fly in WW1. It is now one of only 5 which remain as recognisable of the period and therefore has historical significance and was designated a conservation area and the building was given Grade 2 star* listing in 2007 (Grade 2 star* “Particularly important buildings of more than special interest”).
A Freedom of Information request to the Council in 2016 resulted in a 2011 report being shared with the airfield confirming vibration damage was being caused. The airfield owners would have enforced a restrictive covenant at that time, had they known, to cease the machine use and therefore to stop the deterioration of the Hangar 3.