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Wed, Apr 12, 2023

Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre Facing Dissolution

The Gathering Gloom

The U.K.’s Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre (CAHC) has been confronted with the very outcome it has battled mightily to circumvent.

The Cornwall Council—the governing body of England’s Cornwall County and steward of the Cornwall Airport Newquay (NQY) upon which the CAHC’s museum has operated since 2015—has set forth that subject museum must vacate its current premises immediately, notwithstanding the stone-cold fact that the institution’s new site will not be ready for 12 to 18 months.

The CAHC had hoped to remain open through Easter, as revenues from holiday visitors would have helped the organization boost fundraising for the construction of the new site opposite the Cornwall Airport Newquay’s (NQY) air-ambulance station. Regrettably, the CAHC’s petition was denied by the Cornwall Council, which set forth it had “airside” customers waiting to occupy the structure currently housing the CAHC’s collection of valuable and vulnerable historic aircraft and aviation artifacts.

The unfavorable outcome compelled a local venture capitalist to withdraw his pledge to provide £1-million to the CAHC’s relocation fund—thereby forcing the CAHC into the unenviable position of having to hurriedly extract its exhibits from the soon-to-be-vacated facility whilst finding new homes for its collection of vintage aircraft.

The Cornwall Council has permitted the CAHC to temporarily park its aircraft on a disused portion of the airport, but has failed to provide covered storage for a number of the more delicate and historically important airframes. What’s more, the Cornwall Council has asserted that any exhibits not cleared out by 11 April were to be “disposed of” by the council’s agent.

The CAHC was certain its museum’s future had been secured when local land-owner and businessman Rundle Weldhen offered the organization a new site adjacent NQY and entrepreneur philanthropist Mark Lancaster pledged £1-million ($1,246,500) to the relocation project—the selfsame £1-million that was withdrawn following the Cornwall Council’s refusal to grant the CAHC a lease extension.

CAHC and Mark Lancaster were formerly in negotiations with the Cornwall Council to allow the museum to remain at its current premises through December 2023. Such an extension would have afforded the CAHC opportunity to raise additional funds and better prepare the new site for the imminent relocation of the museum’s collection. Negotiations broke down, however, on 24 March 2023 and the Cornwall Council—despite having stated publicly that it would support the museum were the CAHC to present a credible and deliverable relocation proposal—ordered the museum’s immediate closure and evacuation.

The Cornwall Airport Newquay is the former site of RAF St. Mawgan, the shuttered RAF base the CAHC commemorates.

CAHC Museum founder and director Richard Spencer-Breeze stated: “Clearing the site by the 11th of April, over the Easter weekend is completely impossible. We only received notification that Mark Lancaster’s proposal for CAHC to trade until December had been refused ten days ago and we immediately started the process of clearing the museum from the site, but this deadline is ridiculous. We’ve fought for so long, but we can’t go on like this any longer. This Council seems committed to seeing this museum close forever.

“We found a new site after they turned down all of our previous proposals without even discussing them, we raised £1-million, we received the unequivocal support of every major education body in the County, we offered the once in a lifetime chance for Cornwall to have a unique, all-year, state-of-the-art aerospace attraction and education hub. All they had to do was let us stay where we are for another 8 to 12 months. But no, they won’t even let us relocate in realistic fashion, they would rather see this one-of-a-kind, award-winning business disappear. It’s utterly disgraceful.”

Ironically, the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre was created for purpose of saving a collection of historic aircraft facing an uncertain fate following the closure of an ambitious, but short-lived initiative to bring an aviation museum to Cornwall. The original members of the CAHC assumed responsibility for the endangered airframes, going so far as to rent long-vacated, former RAF premises.

Supported by a tireless team of volunteers, the CAHC set up a new museum with the aim of involving visitors in aviation, permitting them to interact closely with displayed aircraft and learn the respective histories of such.

At the time of this writing, the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre’s aircraft collection includes specimens of BAE’s Harrier and Hawk T1; examples of English Electric’s Canberra and Lightning; a trio of Hawkers comprising a Hunter, Hunter T8, and a Sea Hawk; specimens of Panavia’s Tornado F3 and GR4; Vickers’s Varsity and VC10; a BAC 1-11; and a Boulton Paul Balliol’s T2.

An 11 April update to the CAHC’s change.org petition reads in part: “In a world where young people often struggle to see the positives in the world—whilst fed negative news on a daily basis—our seven-year mission to provide entertainment, enlightenment, education, and inspiration to children and young people has been a successful one. Our team will always remain proud of that.”

FMI: https://cornwallaviationhc.co.uk, Cornwall Petition

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