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Thursday, 02 October 2014

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Carry on flying over Lakes, RAF jet pilots told

Up, up and away: A Tornado fighter in full flight. The RAF says there is no alternative to the exercises

By Ross Brewster

CARRY on flying. That’s the message from the Lake District National Park Authority, despite a call by one it members, former Labour MP Maureen Colquhoun, for a ban on low flying military exercises in the area.

RAF jets need to continue using the Lake District for training purposes to keep pilots in peak condition for flying in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Authority members were told at their meeting in Kendal yesterday.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said low flying is vital in the present “high threat level.”

After a lengthy debate members rejected by 10 votes to two a motion which would have asked the Government to end low flying over the National Park.

The issue was referred to the committee after Secretary of State-appointed member Ms Colquhoun raised the topic at the annual meeting in July. She claimed low flying aircraft polluted the national park environment, shattered the peace and terrified residents and visitors.

Her motion yesterday urged the authority to ask the Government “to end low flying jet aircraft in this National Park, thus restoring and upholding one of our core purposes – quiet enjoyment.”

She said low flying jet aircraft had destroyed the tranquility of the National Park for far too long and pointed out that the 10 mph lake speed limit had brought tranquility to Windermere. “Now is the time to restore that same tranquillity and peace to the Lake District skies.”

RAF Wing Commander Jon Taylor said low level flying was a skill plots had to keep practising. Current regulations means towns and cities are avoided, resulting in most training having to take place over countryside such as the Lake District. “The Lake District offers unique opportunities for training and the skills gained here are used by pilots in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

A report from National Park Officer Paul Tiplady said the Park Authority had no powers to control the use of air space above the Lake District. “The Crown undertakes military low level flying practice in the national interest,” the report said.

Although the terrain of the Lake District is ideal for low level training, the amount of activity taking place in Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire has been steadily falling, from 4,332 hours in 2002/03 to 3,887 hours in 2004/05.

Compared with other national parks, such as Northumberland, Dartmoor and Exmoor, the Lake District experiences much less low flying activity.

The committee also heard that a national agreement between the Association of National Park Authorities and the Ministry of Defence exists to monitor and regulate a situation where a particular national park feels it is getting more than its fair share of activity. Generally speaking fixed wing flights will not be lower than 250 feet.

The agreement says: “It is recognised that there can be conflict between military training and the national parks’ declared purposes … both the Association and the MoD accept that existing uses will continue into the future.

“Low flying will be spread as widely and evenly as possible. Some training over areas of the national parks will be unavoidable, but the MoD will do its best to keep disturbances to a minimum, particularly at weekends and public holidays – subject to flight safety and operational training requirements.”

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