Solent Airport: A look at what’s happened at Daedalus since Fareham Borough Council took over four years ago

Four years ago Daedalus airfield’s future was in the balance when Fareham Borough Council took it over. Now, though, the situation couldn’t be more different as The News’ business editor KIMBERLEY BARBER reports.

Thursday, 25th April 2019, 5:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2019, 12:23 pm
Daedalus airfield
Daedalus airfield

When Fareham Borough Council took over the airfield at Daedalus in 2015 its future hung in the balance.

The site, first established in 1917, was one of the primary shore airfields of the Fleet Air Arm. However the airfield was decommissioned in 1996 and it fell into disrepair until it gained status as one of 24 Enterprise Zones nationally in 2011 – part of a government scheme to boost business by providing tax breaks and giving extra support.

Now Daedalus is a thriving aviation-led employment area, with numerous businesses, a busy airport which even sees Spitfires regularly roar from its runway and a college specialising in marine, automotive and aerospace industries.

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(left to right) Cllr. Sean Woodward with Solent Airport Daedalus Manager Martyn Francis Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190403-8699)

The airfield has been rebranded as Solent Airport and has seen an increase in flights by 50 per cent. At present, there are no commercial flights although there has been discussion to start a service to the Channel Islands, with the airfield being booked by private flights, along with flying tuition and flight experiences.

Cllr Seán Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, said: ‘Daedalus is a real success story and we want to continue building on our existing achievements at Solent Airport and our business parks.’

The council has invested over £30m in Solent Airport and business parks, since it took ownership. When it took over the site, it immediately conducted a financial review and reduced operating costs by 10 per cent, but despite this it was still operating at an annual loss of £600,000.

Cllr Woodward said: ‘When we took ownership it was in dire need of work. If we hadn’t resurfaced the runway then the airport would have closed after 98 years. Instead we invested £1.5m into the resurfacing, and two years later we celebrated 100 years of flying from here.

Hangars at Solent Airport Daedalus Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190403-8745)

‘We rebuilt the control tower as it was in a very poor state, built a fuel farm, and this all helped to increase the air traffic movements from 20,000 per year to 30,000 – and to make it profitable again.’

As well as the resurfacing, the council has also built a passenger lounge, and cafe, which is proving popular with aviation fans and families due to its excellent views of the runway.

Its £500,000 fuel farm facility opened at the start of last year, selling Avgas and Jet A1 fuel at some of the cheapest prices on the south coast.

New hangars were completed in 2017 – and together with Fareham Innovation Centre, a business centre – have the potential to generate annual income of £2m.

Stephen Brownlie - Centre Director of the Fareham Innovation Centre Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190403-8823)

Fareham Innovation Centre, managed by innovation centres specialist Oxford Innovation on behalf of Fareham Borough Council, has 20 workshops and 53 offices, from 200sq ft to 1,000sq ft, for between one to 20 people.

The centre is one of the site’s biggest success stories – reaching 100 per cent occupancy within a year, leading to a £7m extension opening in 2018.

Stephen Brownlie, centre manager, said: ‘Our main aim is to build a community here with all the businesses. We are not a serviced office block, we are part of the innovation centre, every business here is a specialist in aviation, aerospace, marine or advanced manufacturing, and it is about helping businesses along their way.’

A conference suite, which can accommodate 100 people, also opened at the centre this year, which Stephen said has been popular due to its unique views.

Just one of the many new purpose-built hangars Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190403-8732)

One of the firms operating from the centre is Psion Consulting, which provides technical support on equipment to the UK Ministry of Defence.

Paul Dawson, director, said: ‘Having an office is a lot more professional than working from home. It has also benefited us to be together with other similar businesses.'

Another way the Innovation Centre benefits is from the steady stream of skilled students coming from the college next door. CEMAST, run by Fareham College, trains 900 pupils a year in automotive, engineering and manufacturing courses.

And this skill base is set to grow, as Fareham College’s new £4.1m Civil Engineering Training Centre (CETC) is also being built at Daedalus, which will train more than 1,600 groundwork and civil engineering apprenticeships in its first five years of development

So far, Daedalus has created 650 jobs – with plans to reach 1,100 in the coming years.

Cllr Woodward said: ‘Our jobs target for the site is 1,100 in 25 years, we have already delivered 650 of those in the past three years, so it is going well. These are also highly skilled engineering jobs, which add value to the local economy.’

Leader of Fareham Borough Council Sean Woodward Picture by: Malcolm Wells (190403-6452)

Currently being constructed, and due to finish in 2020 – allowing investment into the airfield and for public open space to be designated.

Cllr Woodward said that the council’s plan for the next three to five years would see more new commercial buildings brought in to boost jobs, more community facilities including a heritage facility, Daedalus Common, play facilities and a gate guardian built and continued improvements to the airport infrastructure, including runway lights to increase safety for pilots, aircraft parking and navigational equipment to aid pilots with precision landing approaches.

He also said the council was considering expansion opportunities at the airport, including increased flight movements.

Cllr Woodward also said the council was proud to be holding a huge two-day commemoration event in June to mark 75 years since D-Day.

HMS Daedalus was the busiest allied airfield in the UK on D-Day with more than 400 missions flown over Normandy.

Aircraft will be a key feature of the weekend with both static and flying aircraft to enjoy, plus visitors can look forward to children's activities, fun fair rides, stage and arena performances, food stalls, gift and community stalls and vintage cars.

There will also be displays from The Great War Display Team, the Round Canopy Display Team and the World's only wing walker display team, the AeroSuperBatics.

He said: ‘It will be a fantastic way to honour those who fought.’

In numbers

369 acres of land

650 jobs already created

250,000 litres of fuel sold in its first year

53 offices at Fareham Innovation Centre

£12m cost to build CEMAST

£5.3m cost to build Fareham Innovation Centre

March 2015 – Fareham Innovation Centre, providing office and workshop space and dedicated business support for fledgling businesses completed May 2015 – Universal Tools expands on to site July 2015 – CEMAST awarded Best Educational Building at the South East Building Excellence Awards September 2015 – Federation of Small Businesses Award for Most Innovative Small Business Friendly Project for Fareham Innovation Centre November 2015 – Plan for £500m IFA2 energy interconnector station revealed December 2015 – Fareham Innovation Centre is 80 per cent full 2015 – Infrastructure for Faraday Business Park completed 2016 – Long Term Airport Management Contract let – 2016 2016 – New speculative building on Faraday Business Park completed – 2016 2016 Footpath link to seafront implemented – 2016 2017 – Precision tool manufacturer, UTP, new head office completed 2017- Proptech Aero UK, Office and Workshop for aircraft propeller maintenance facility opened at Faraday Business Park 2017 – Terms agreed with National Grid and planning consent granted to enable IFA2 to be built 2017 – New facilities for corporate aviation completed and flights commenced 2017 – Planning consent for infrastructure at Swordfish Business Park received and design work completed 2017- Air traffic control tower refurbishment Phase 1 (indoor and outdoor viewing areas) completed 2017- Five new General Aviation hangars completed 2018 – Six new business hangars completed 2018 – New fuelling facilities completed 2018 – Fareham Innovation Centre extension with The Bridge Conference Suite completed 2018 – Air Traffic Control Tower refurbishment Phase 2 (indoor café, permanent corporate aviation passenger facilities, additional car parking) completed 2018 – Achieved prestigious “Development of the Year” and “Business Park Innovation of the Year” awards 2018/19 – Financial break-even position achieved – 2018/19

Part of the view over the airfield. Picture: Chris Moorhouse