An open letter from Jack Lopresti, MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke
In recent weeks I have seen several pieces in the local press that seek to scaremonger over the future of our local economy now that Filton Airfield has closed. It is particularly disappointing that local Labour politicians have been cynically talking our local industries down in this way, they’ve been more concerned about scoring parochial party political points than looking at the opportunities and promoting the success of our world leading high tech aerospace and aviation manufacturing industry.
The local Labour party have never made clear how they would have acquired control of a privately owned airfield, forced BAe to keep operating it and forced Airbus to keep supporting it commercially. The Labour party know that the only way this could have been done would be compulsory purchase backed by a huge public subsidy, but they refuse to be honest with local people that they would plough millions of pounds of hardworking tax payer’s money into something that is commercially unviable. The future plans for investment and infrastructure for the airfield site were put to a South Gloucestershire Council Meeting at the end of December 2011 – and when it came down to it, when they had the opportunity to show some kind of leadership what did Labour do? They abstained from the vote.
Since the announced closure Filton aerospace industry has gone from strength to strength and still has a world-leading aviation industry and is still seen as the country’s foremost aerospace technology hub, something which many local people, me included, are very proud of.
After the announcement which surprised and saddened all of us local residents I sought and received assurances from all of the major local aerospace businesses, including Rolls Royce, Airbus, GKN and others, that the loss of the airfield will not compromise their operations in Filton. I also had discussions with Defence Ministers about the loss of use of the airfield to the Military, should they ever need to use it, but was informed that due to the availability of places like RAF Fairford and Brize Norton the closure of the airfield would have no bearing on any future Military Operational capability.
In fact in the last year or so Airbus and GKN have both made major investments locally. Airbus have called Filton the “jewel in the crown of aviation engineering” and have invested £70 million into the soon to open Pegasus House, a design and research centre which will be part of further developments at the Airbus Aerospace Park. Airbus has a jam packed order book running into tens of billions of pounds and recent Government partnerships are underlining the long term prospects for Airbus at Filton.
In January Airbus announced the creation of nearly 200 extra high-tech jobs after the firm landed a £1.4 million grant from the Government through the Regional Growth Fund and last week I had the pleasure of attending the Deputy Prime Ministers’ announcement of the Governments’ £1 billion investment into the UK Aerospace industry which will protect local jobs for many years to come.
Last year GKN opened the new facility that places our local area, the South West and the UK at the vanguard of high-precision aerospace manufacturing. GKN have built, at Severn Beach, a £170 million facility designed for the quick delivery, high precision manufacture and assembly of carbon fibre reinforced plastic aircraft wing components which will be integral to the aerospace industry’s supply chain, a large part of which is of course based in our locality.
The new factory is great news for GKN and the local area; employment is expected to rise to 450 employees by 2016 and the plant is already achieving industry firsts since commencing manufacturing last year.
One of the biggest challenges we face is with the future of our home-grown workforce; we are desperately short of young engineers in the UK. Over the last couple of years I have been working closely with the Concorde Trust and local industry leaders to see exactly how we inspire our young people to become the much needed scientists and engineers that feed local industry and will guarantee its survival. I believe part of the answer will lie with the redevelopment of the airfield land.
A third of the site has been ring fenced for the expansion of the high-tech manufacturing sector in Filton, and at the same time negotiations are at very advanced stages to secure a permanent home for Concord, as well as a home for the Bristol Aero Collection, and a STEM learning centre to inspire and train the next generation of great British engineers from young people in our local area.
In this way, the site will continue to make a huge contribution to the aerospace industry in Filton, and nationwide, for the future.
The UK aviation industry is a world beater but still must compete on a global basis. It’s future does not lie with the past but with the high-tech manufacturing of the future which does not need the airfield but needs investment, Government support and a long-term approach to educating and training the next generations of scientists and engineers – I am doing all I can to support that aspiration and I know that Government Ministers are implementing policies and investment into our local area for the same reasons.
So I would make this plea to those that still oppose the airfield closure – let’s seize the opportunity, stop talking down our local economy and local industry, get on board with the fantastic and exciting investments being made by industry and Government in our local area. Help our young people by inspiring them to choose careers in our thriving local industries so that Filton will remain for future generations to come, the jewel in the crown of aviation engineering and technology.
Jack Lopresti MP
Photo: The last three aircraft to take-off from the airfield line up on the runway on 21st December 2012.
Related link: Funeral atmosphere as last planes take-off from Filton Airfield (The Journal)
Recent letters opposing the closure of Filton Airfield: