Dunsfold: ‘Before the war it was the most remote village in Surrey: now, well hidden, an airfield tests jet fighters.’
Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England: Surrey
Historic England explains that Local Planning Authorities are obliged to designate as conservation areas any parts of their own area that are of special architectural or historic interest, the character and appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance. Waverley Borough Council Planning Department are considering an application for designation of Dunsfold Aerodrome as a Conservation Area. There is a consultation process concluding on April 28th 2017. Please read what follows and look at the references to Historic England’s documents. Then if you want to support DAHS and make comments about the designation you can make them on the Waverley website. It is a simple questionnaire.
You may be surprised to know that former military airfields can – and do – become designated as Conservation Areas. This is because conservation areas are not just about ‘old buildings’. They have a much wider role to play than that. In the words of Historic England (formerly English Heritage);
‘The totality of an aerodrome cannot be captured through statutory designation alone, and other approaches such as conservation area protection….. have been shown to be appropriate’ (Historic England (4))
In respect of Dunsfold Aerodrome, the case for establishing a Conservation Area is very much about the historical context, the people, and the events (of national and international importance) that are inextricably linked to the site. But it is also about the appropriate management and preservation of the large number of heritage buildings still existing, the future of which is currently uncertain. Most members of the public are unaware of the existence of these structures as the site is still private and largely ‘hidden’. It is not coincidental that at this point in time Historic England is considering the designation of at least 10 structures on Dunsfold Aerodrome – in other words ‘listing’ them. This would have an important bearing on the designation of the site as a Conservation Area.
Plan of Dunsfold Heritage Assets click to expand:
‘The vast majority of nationally significant airfield structures will be most appropriately protected through listing…..Another mechanism by which the significance of an airfield can be highlighted as a historic landscape, is through conservation area status.’ (Historic England (5)).
Conservation of a special place such as Dunsfold Aerodrome is about the complex processes through which we as individuals or as groups define ourselves and our relationships with the natural and cultural aspects of the airfield. It is about a sense of place – profoundly important for individual and community identity, and the ‘significance’ of this airfield as a heritage asset. Currently, Historic England recognises Dunsfold Aerodrome as an Undesignated Heritage Asset; if it were to be granted conservation area status this would raise it to Designated Heritage Asset status.
There is a recognised procedure for appraisal, designation and management of a Conservation Area (Historic England (6)). Appraisal of an area for conservation can include establishing its significance for a number of reasons:-
- History, Landscape and Identities
- Rural Sense of Place
- Urban Sense of Place
- Cultural Landscapes
- Conservation, Biodiversity and Tourism
DAHS exists to research and make public all of the history of what has been called ‘Surrey’s most secret airfield’*, to celebrate historical achievements, and preserve precious assets and memories for the benefit of current and future generations. We believe that the right and proper way of doing that is for all statutory bodies, local councils and stakeholders to work together to establish a robust framework for the airfield that will inform and guide its future management and development, recognising its heritage value. A conservation area covering the site would be an ideal means of achieving this.
What makes Dunsfold Airfield special?
- The relatively ‘untouched’ nature of the 1942-built airfield
- The survival of a large number of key physical assets, including the runways, in their original form
- Home to the development of a number of iconic British military aircraft; including the Hunter, the Hawk and the Harrier ‘jump jet’ – world class technology that led to military and economic success.
- Berlin Airlift – Dunsfold Airfield helped to avert what would probably have been a humanitarian disaster.
- 3 permanent runways designed for the WWII bombers and latter used to test new aviation technology.
- Wings and Wheels – major air show and motorsport event attracting 25,000 visitors and over 1000 participants.
- Home to the BBCs Top Gear programme watched in 214 territories worldwide and has an estimated global audience of 350 million
Examples of former military airfields that have been given Conservation Area status include;
- Kenley (Surrey)
- Duxford (Cambridge)
- RAF Coltishall (Norfolk)
- RAF Bicester (Oxfordshire)
- RAF Upper Heyford (Oxfordshire)
- Old Sarum (Wiltshire)
- Stow Maries (Essex)
- RAF Hornchurch (Essex)
And finally a reminder…
Waverley Borough Council have made the consultation public on their web site and everyone can comment online;
Support DAHS – We encourage as many individuals as possible to tell Waverley of their support for the Conservation Area – online or by letter by 28th April 2017.
Update December 2017:
Since application for a Conservation Area and Waverley’s rejection there have been a number of assets considered for Listed Building Status. Historic England have since designated 5 Listed Structures on the Airfield site:
Primemeads Farm – Grade II
VSTOL Blast Pads – Grade II
Engine Running Pens – Grade II
Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Post – Grade II
Canadian War Memorial – Grade II
Historic England provide detail into the background of Conservation Area designations.