A plan to close Coventry Airport and turn it into one of the world’s largest gigafactories making batteries for electric vehicles has edged a step closer after Warwick District Council’s planning committee backed the £2.5bn scheme.
Their counterparts at Coventry City Council still need to have their say on the massive operation that will see two huge structures built on green belt land and if they give the thumbs up as expected, the final decision will then be made by the Secretary of State.
The airport site was selected, according to council planners, because it offered the perfect location in the centre of the country, close to Coventry and Warwick Universities and the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, and its proximity to Coventry and Birmingham due to the 6,000 jobs it is expected to create.
The majority of councillors at this week’s planning meeting voted in favour of the plans even though a number of individuals and groups spoke out against the scheme and the closure of the airport.
Planning officer Helena Obremski explained there was a ‘low level of connectivity from the airport’ and Jason Tate, the planning agent acting on behalf of applicants Coventry Airport Ltd, said the owners had tried hard in vain to make it viable.
But Steve Clark, director of Aerotech Aircraft Maintenance Ltd which has been based at the site for more than 20 years, said the airport was still viable and needed to be protected.
He told the meeting: “Despite their efforts to undermine the businesses based there, for instance by shutting down the all-weather radar by closing on two days each week, customers and tenants are still doing well because Coventry is an ideally placed regional airport. The argument that Coventry Airport is not viable is a ruse - it is only dormant.”
The airport is on the edge of Baginton village and parish council chairman Cllr Julie Keightley also called for the plans to be thrown, explaining that hundreds of acres of green belt land had already been destroyed following approval for the nearby Gateway project.
She also raised safety concerns: “The officer’s report spells out the dangers involved - there is a risk of harm. It is an accident waiting to happen and if anything has been learnt in the past year after the awful fires in the region and uncontrollable battery fires at facilities in Australia and America, you have a duty to prevent it from happening here.”
But Mr Tate outlined how the gigafactory - said to be the size of 73 Wembley Stadiums - would benefit the area.
He said: “This scheme positions Warwick and Warwickshire at the very heart of the British battery industry. It’s a strategically crucial investment for the region and UK, creating thousands of highly skilled and well-paid jobs. The council has been independently advised and that independent advice was resoundingly supportive.
“Without the scheme, the West Midlands risks losing its automotive industry to locations elsewhere in the UK and overseas.”
The council’s development manager Gary Fisher explained that any safety concerns would also be looked at.
Speaking towards the end of the four-hour long meeting, he explained: “There are safeguards in place beyond the planning system which will ensure that any issues around danger are robustly dealt with.”
Warwick district's Green Party welcomed the outline planning approval for the gigafactory.
The group said the factory should be a big boost to the local economy, creating hundreds of skilled green jobs, and making a massive contribution to the decarbonisation of motor vehicles in the UK as demanded by the climate crisis.
Cllr John Dearing (Kenilworth Park Hill) said: “this is an opportunity to create a facility that not only delivers the batteries needed by the motor vehicle industry but is also as green as possible in construction and operation. But the UK’s biggest battery-producing plant should itself be climate change proofed.
"The current proposal fails to be truly fit for the future in two major respects.
"The huge building will be constructed only to current building regulations: the Green Party challenges the developers, and Coventry City Council as landowner, to build the factory to the BREEAM ‘outstanding’ standard.
"This standard would minimise carbon inputs in the building materials and the construction process. They should also monitor the performance of the building in use to ensure ongoing carbon dioxide emissions are as low as possible.
"Access to the plant for staff will be by car, bus and bicycle. Coventry City and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LCWEP) are investing in the development of a radical new Very Light Rail (VLR) public transport system for Coventry.
"The VLR will be battery powered and might well use the batteries produced in the gigafactory.
"The Green Party therefore calls on Coventry City Council, the LCWEP and the developers to ensure that the Very Light Rail system is extended to the gigafactory at the earliest opportunity.
"With an ultra-low carbon building and low emissions public transport access, the gigafactory would indeed become an outstanding beacon of our sustainable future."