TRUSTEES and members of the Portsmouth Naval Gliding Centre are ‘angry’ after feeling forced to take the decision to close.
The PNCG club, based at Daedalus airfield in Lee-on-the-Solent, was founded in 1945 offering the chance for locals to fly gliders, and said it was served an eviction notice by Fareham Borough Council.
Centre manager Tony World said: ‘We were served an eviction notice that we had to get out of the hangar at the airfield and we were offered some scrubland in return but it is not something I would even want to drive my car over let alone put a glider on it.’
Thousands signed a petition calling on the council to save the club which is an Armed Forces charity.
But the club’s board has decided that its future is no longer financially viable and will close on May 31.
Tony said: ‘At the moment we pay about £1,000 per year to park each glider on the field but the council want to put it up to over £6,000 a year which means we can’t afford to stay anyway and we feel forced to make this decision to close.
‘We feel since the council took over we have had more and more restrictions which are like cuts to our club.
‘This is the 1000th cut.’
Fareham Borough Council leader Cllr Sean Woodward said: ‘I am very disappointed that Portsmouth Naval Gliding Centre has confirmed that it will not be remaining at Solent Airport after May 31, despite having made some very positive progress with the club in recent weeks.
‘As leader of the council I know that we have been working closely with PNGC to try to find a way forward for them to remain at the airport by finding a solution that worked for both PNGC and the council. These negotiations have been ongoing for over a year, however it has proven extremely difficult.’
In a press statement released by the PNGC board of directors, it stated the MoD confirmed in writing on Friday that the Fareham Council had declined its historical annual financial contribution to PNGC operations at Daedalus for its use of the amenity.
But this is denied by the council.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘PNGC claims that Fareham Borough Council has declined an historical annual financial contribution to PNGC operations from the MoD.
‘In fact, no such funding has been offered, because the council was never a party to the discussions between the MoD and the former airfield owner, the Homes and Communities Agency.
‘Furthermore, PNGC has written to the council stating that neither the MoD nor the Royal Navy will offer financial support to them.
‘Despite this, I know that the council has confirmed to PNGC that it would be more than happy to accept any contribution from the MoD or the Royal Navy, historic or otherwise, towards a lease agreement with PNGC.
‘I would welcome further discussions with PNGC, even at this stage, to try to find a way forward for them to remain at the airport.’
In a statement, Fareham Borough Council said: ‘Since 2015, PNGC has enjoyed extremely favourable terms with free hangarage and subsidised use of the airfield; however, the club was fully aware that this was a temporary arrangement and new terms would need to be agreed.
‘For more than a year, the council has been working with PNGC to negotiate new terms for their tenancy.
‘As part of this process PNGC shared its accounts and set out their requirements for moving forward in terms of how much land they needed and the price they could afford.
‘The proposal included use of an exclusive area on the airfield where, like many other users already do, they could park their aircraft in the open air and have storage facilities for their equipment.
‘Despite the special concessionary rent, the terms would also have allowed them to build their own hangar on the land, either using their financial reserves, fund raising or through a grant from the armed forces grant giving bodies.
‘Unfortunately, it is simply not viable for PNGC to remain at the airport on their current terms.
‘This is not purely for financial reasons, although that does have an impact as the council has a responsibility to its residents to get best value from its assets; there is also the issue of fairness to other tenants.
‘Although a registered charity, PNGC is one of a number of tenants at the airport to offer pilot training to fee-paying customers. It would be extremely unfair to others offering similar services to subsidise this aspect of PNGC’s commercial activities.
‘Solent Airport was the only licenced airfield in the United Kingdom to permit glider winch launching as well as powered movements. This was initially agreed by the CAA as a trial, but as the traffic levels have significantly increased, the CAA requested the airport to review the current operations.
‘This review has resulted in RCA giving PNGC notice to cease winch launching some time ago.
‘Glider launching using a tug aircraft is not affected by these changes and accounted for nearly 2,000 flights last year.’
Tony added: ‘I am absolutely gutted that this club that has been running for over 70 years has to close.
‘All that history is being cut at the legs by the council and I feel sad for our members and future members who will no longer have the option to fly locally.’