Branscombe airfield’s legal battle settles
- Credit: Archant
East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) legal face-off with the owners of Branscombe Airfield has finally come to an end with a £33,300 settlement.
David and Naomi Hayman hired a QC and racked up legal costs of more than three times that amount – but saved their property value from irreparable loss.
A saving grace came from an unlikely place – controversial ex-councillor Graham Brown spoke on their behalf against his own council.
EDDC then fought to cut the amount it had to pay from the public purse, arguing that David had brought in too expensive a team for a minor dispute.
“They were trying to change the value of our land – we had no option but to stand and fight,” said David.
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“We had to bring in the big guns.”
As well as his family, David was fighting to protect two established businesses at the site.
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“In effect they were being told they were out of the game,” said the 47-year-old.
The district council was pursuing a planning dispute, because the campsite at the airfield had never received formal planning consent.
But David argued that it had been in use by the previous owner for nearly three decades – exceeding the 10 years in which a retrospective application would have to have been submitted.
In court, he had 37 sworn declarations and 16 live witnesses attesting the fact – and even brought in EDDC’s then tourism champion, Graham Brown, who had farmed the adjoining land for 15 years.
He claimed that Mr Brown told EDDC chief executive Mark Williams to ‘pull the plug’ before it went to court because they were not going to win.
The airfield has been the site of an aircraft and classic car show for more than 20 years, that attracts as many as 7,000 people and regularly raises thousands for charity. But without being awarded costs, David could not put the event on last year, and now it does not look like it will return.
It costs around £50,000 to put on, but is a huge risk – it can be cancelled because of the weather or, as in one year, a neighbour holding a clay pigeon shooting event.
In addition to the financial risk, there were health and safety issues involved with landing up to 180 planes on a small airstrip.
This year, David is looking to go back to basics with a smaller air show for a few hundred people, rather than thousands.
An EDDC spokesman said the council’s record for winning appeals continues to be well above the national average.