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The Maypole Action Group

It may prove to be good preparation for a future at Westminster but I’ve just come from a village meeting that more closely resembled a revolutionary council than a democratic debate.

I’m writing, of course, about a village protest against planning permission that seeks to increase the daily number of permitted flights from the flying club at Maypole Farm, from the present twelve to a maximum of twenty-five.

As a guest at this Hoath village meeting, I was immediately worried, as were others, by the abrupt ejection of the airfield owner before the meeting even began. Surely, any truly democratic process demands a balanced argument and by throwing out the one person who could explain the finer detail behind the planning application, the audience in the packed village hall lost any real opportunity of being able to arrive at a truly informed opinion. Instead, it was offered the equivalent of a drum head court martial by the chair. “It’s our meeting and we can decide who attends, so please leave now before we call the police”.

Much useful information was, as a result lost and at times an almost comically exaggerated view of the problem was offered. Some examples being:

• “A possible nine thousand flights a year”.
o “Up from an average of three a day”?
• “Manston has three runways”
o “No it has two”
• “What if an aircraft hits the village school”?
o “From Manston or from Maypole?”
• “Our property is being devalued”.
o “No it’s not”.
• “How do we know that illegal immigrants aren’t being smuggled in by the pilots”?
o “We don’t”.
• “Our property is being blighted by continued growth of the airfield”
o What evidence is there of this?
• “There’s environmental damage, birds are being scared away”
o There’s no evidence of this
• There is no longer a flying club at the airstrip
o Completely untrue.

And so on.

Let’s be clear. The villagers of Hoath have an absolute, proper and democratic right to express their concern or objection to any extension to the number of take-off’s and landing permitted on Maypole’s grass strip. This could be for broader environmental or simple noise reasons, although there is, at present no evidence that regulations affecting either or indeed CAA or Health & Safety rules are being contravened in any way.

The airfield owner, Andy Haigh, explained to me afterwards and I have attached a letter from him here, that if the Maypole pilots could use the twelve movements allowed each day spread over the year as a single number, then he’d be entirely happy (4,380) but the rules don’t allow for a planning request for a single number of flights and there are weeks and sometimes, even months in the winter when flying is impossible, so in real terms his total allocation is never reached and the average is closer to three movements a day or less. As a consequence, he says he has asked for a doubling of the present twelve flight limit, which has only ever been met once, to bring the airfield into line with others in Kent and to ensure that on any summer’s day, there are enough movements available to accept visitors – who may only land with prior permission - and allow the dozen or more local flying club members to fly if they wish to.

There is, says Andy, absolutely no intention to ‘develop’ Maypole commercially and to suggest otherwise flies in the face of the facts that he was entirely happy to present to the meeting in the village hall and which was refused when he was asked to leave by the organisers.

In any debate of this kind emotions can run high. However, writing as one who has frequently championed the democratic process, I believe that the people of Hoath were badly directed in their meeting. A prosecution offering often vague and unsubstantiated allegations over procedure and safety denied the residents the facts they needed for a truly informed and not an arbitrary opinion on the merits or otherwise of the planning application.

In a free society, people have a right to make informed choices and an equal right to be heard. Denying such rights denies a process that started with Magna Carta and which today is being quickly unravelled by David Blunkett. What I witnessed in the village hall I found profoundly disappointing, because middle England above all, should protect its hard-won democratic principles of fair play or risk losing them forever.

A Letter from Maypole Farm


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