KLM chief threatens to pull 400 airport jobs out of Norwich

Jon WelchThe boss of one of Norwich's biggest employers warned his company would pull out of the city with the loss of more than 400 jobs unless councillors approved an application to move a controversial aircraft engine testing facility.Jon Welch

The boss of one of Norwich's biggest employers warned his company would pull out of the city with the loss of more than 400 jobs unless councillors approved an application to move a controversial aircraft engine testing facility.

His warning came as Norwich City Council admitted it had failed to properly enforce planning regulations restricting the tests at Norwich International airport following complaints from local people over noise.

The airport authorities have applied for permission to relocate the existing testing facility from its approved location on the eastern apron to the former fire training site in the north-eastern part of the airport.

For the past five years testing has been taking place at an unauthorised location at the north of the airport's disused second runway, but Norwich City Council has ordered the airport to cease testing there.

The airport has now applied to move the testing facility to the former fire training site and include improved measures to cut down on noise.

Onno Pietersma, managing director of KLM UK Engineering, told a planning meeting at City Hall yesterday that it was vital for his company and the airport's viability that councillors approved the scheme.

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'If we're restricted in the future then we have no option but to move our business and let go of 450 staff,' he warned.

Phil Gadd, of Norwich International, said: 'KLM UK Engineering is the most significant non-passenger related business at the airport. By any measure they're one of Norwich's most important businesses and they're vital to the local economy and the success of Norwich Airport.

'If they are unable to continue their operations they will have little alternative but to relocate.'

Graham Nelson, head of planning at Norwich City Council, apologised for the authority's handling of the issue to date.

'The way it's been dealt has not reflected well on Norwich City Council or the airport,' he said.

'The city council has failed to take meaningful action for three years to regularise activity taking place with the planning control which clearly had an adverse impact on quality of life.

'I'm sorry we have failed on this issue before now. It's taken much longer than anticipated to put this application before you.'

A number of local people spoke at yesterday's meeting, including Peter Cook, who lives at Quaker Farm, Spixworth, just 500m from the proposed site.

'Although this application is for a new engine testing site, five years' use of an unauthorised site nearby means I know exactly what to expect,' he said.

'At the top end of the scale - noisy aircraft, full throttle, wind towards us - the noise is deafening and all-encompassing. You can feel your lungs vibrating and it's impossible to remain outside without defending your ears.

'Indoors it's not much better - in fact, the only real escape is to get in a car and get right away. This is not fair or reasonable; the council has a duty set out in planning guidance is to protect people in their own homes from such excessive intrusion.'

Ray Britt, who lives at Lingwood, claimed noise from the site even reached his home. 'It's loud and intrusive and drives me into the house - and that's eight miles away,' he said.

'This noise is going to pollute the whole of the Norfolk Broads. Are people going to come to the Norfolk Broads with that level of noise?

'I think we should apply several principles here, the main one being that the polluter pays for the very best sound-reducing measures.'

Planners had recommended that councillors approve the proposals, subject to strict conditions, but members voted to defer a decision until further information on sound limits was available and they had been given a chance to visit nearby homes during testing to hear the sound for themselves.

Is noise making your life unbearable? Please call reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk

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