Expansion row is behind flying firm leaving Daedalus

GONE Sapphire Aviation chief engineer Dave Beach, operations assistant Jennifer Cooke, operations manager Matt Ryan and managing director Steve Ford.  Picture: Rob Dunning/Solent Studios
GONE Sapphire Aviation chief engineer Dave Beach, operations assistant Jennifer Cooke, operations manager Matt Ryan and managing director Steve Ford. Picture: Rob Dunning/Solent Studios
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AN AVIATION firm pulled out of Daedalus enterprise zone after land it wanted was handed over to a council, the company’s MD has said.

Sapphire Aviation’s Steve Ford said the aircraft management and handling firm wanted to build new hangars on land at the former airfield, in Lee-on-the-Solent.

But he told The News it was given to Fareham Borough Council to build a £5.3m innovation centre, which meant his firm could not keep to its business plan and had to go.

He said: ‘Backers can’t invest in something that’s been taken away. If a piece of land is no longer available what do you invest in?

‘It’s a chicken and egg situation, by default. Any future investment had to stop.’

He said the firm had draft heads of terms from the landlord, the Homes and Communities Agency, but no contract was signed.

He added the firm was offered alternative sites but none were suitable. But he is in talks with HCA and hopes to return with a new plan.

As reported, the firm moved to the zone in October 2012 and was the first to benefit from Fareham and Gosport borough councils’ business rate rebate scheme.

It meant the firm did not have to pay business rates.

But it left at the end of last year – sparking changes to the way the airfield is run.

Pilots had to give 24 hours notice prior to landing but this has been changed to one to two hours.

Councillor Sean Woodward is Fareham council’s leader.

He said: ‘The council was formally offered that land after Sapphire had said they were pulling out.

‘I asked Steve to come in and meet because I was keen for Sapphire to move into new premises on the site.

‘I asked him to come into Fareham as the planning authority to see what sites would be possible. The next thing I heard they were pulling out.

‘He was talking about almost taking a sabbatical for a while and then coming back to the site. I viewed that positively because I was delighted when Sapphire moved on.’

In a statement HCA said it worked closely with the firm and it was sorry it left.

It said: ‘We’ve done everything we can to retain Sapphire on the site.

‘We have offered discounted accommodation, different plots and an extended lease on Sapphire’s current premises whilst meeting its staff regularly to discuss options.’