Plan to terminate aviation operations at the airport gets green light by Warwick District Council, but still needs approval by Coventry City 

Warwick District Council (WDC) has given speculative planning permission for a change of use of Coventry Airport, bringing the potential end of aviation operations at the airfield a step closer. The application to build a gigafactory at the site, put forward by The Rigby Group, will now be examined by Coventry City Council on Thursday. 

During the four-hour meeting WDC heard arguments from both sides regarding the application, with strong opposition to the plan coming from a variety of businesses and groups. Baginton Parish Council, said that the project ‘would breach [the General Aviation and National Policy] guidelines and destroy a nationally important piece of infrastructure, while the ‘Save Coventry Airport’ interest group, argued that the application represents an ‘inappropriate development within the Green Belt’ that sets a risky ‘precedent of allowing redevelopment of local airfields’.  

The UK Civil Aviation Authority had also expressed very strong opposition to the plan, saying: ‘The many based operators located at Coventry play a part in the local economy and provide employment. They require the airport to remain operational for the purposes of their business. If the airport were to be closed, … these operators [would] be forced to move elsewhere or close’.  In its formal opinion on the plan the Authority also stated that ‘It would undermine the Department for Transport’s objectives of promoting and boosting the viability of UK General aviation’. 

The Rigby Group believes that the gigafactory, which would produce batteries for electric cars, is needed in order to support the strong car manufacturing tradition in the Coventry area. However, at the moment no investor has stepped forward to show interest in financing the plan, which would require a £2.5b investment. In fact, according to the Coventry Observer, ‘Councillors [of WDC] were told it was not legally possible for a condition to be added to keep the airport open until a confirmed operator for the gigafactory was found and Coventry Airport could be closed tomorrow if that decision was taken by its owners’.  

Several aviation operators at the airport expressed their disappointment at the decision made by WDC. Steve Ford, CEO of Sky Harbour UK Limited, said: “By ignoring the objections of the Civil Aviation Authority, the All Party Parliamentary Group and Royal Mail, a dangerous precedent has been set, nationally. A green light has indeed been given to speculative property developers who control the nation’s airports”. Mark Hooton, who operates the historic Vampire jet at Coventry Airport, added that there was a “danger an important part of British aviation history could be lost for future generations”. 

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