Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt
Secretary of State
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street
October 12th 2011
I am writing to you to raise what I believe to be an important and potentially urgent matter.
I recently visited a site called the Gatwick Aviation Museum (web addresses below), having come across it by chance. The site is owned by a Mr Peter Vallance. Over more than three decades he has built up an important collection of historic aircraft, parts and related items, including early photographs. The museum has been a labor of love for Mr Vallance. I believe it has National significance.
He, and a small team, run the site on a volunteer basis, and all of the aircraft, and artifacts, have been purchased by Mr Vallance personally. He makes the museum available several times a month, runs school visits, and organizes talks by elderly pilots of the era. This happens all year round. I have seen children become excited and motivated as they enter the museum, due to the number of items and the way they are presented. When you go outside and see the aircraft, it takes everyone by surprise. The fact that you can touch them, and in some cases climb into them, is unique. Some of the aircraft or parts appear to be literally unique. But what is important is the entire collection - a national treasure in my view and those of my friends.
Recently, Mr Vallance applied for planning permission to house some of of the aircraft in order for them not to deteriorate further. His volunteers are doing what they can to avoid this in the meantime. This application has been denied by Mole Valley Council. There is quite a history to this. The site has grown up by renovating a disused area - again via volunteers. It is somewhat out of the way, just outside Charlwood, on the edge of Gatwick airport outer regions. Mr Vallance has maintained all trees etc, improving the site from what it used to be. His diligence and dedication to this, to provide this local amenity is quite extraordinary. He is now old, and not in good health. Some of the battles with the local council to gain a little support to his efforts have taken their toll no doubt. He feels he is 'battling' officialdom. He simply wishes to preserve the museum and its contents and for this to be locally available. He lives nearby, and always has done. It has become his 'home' in effect.
I judge that Mr Vallance's efforts are a wonderful and real example of what "The Big Society" is there for. On the several occasions I have visited, the site has had many visitors, also photographers and hobbyists, as well as children. They are clearly appreciative. The site itself generates no noise or problem for anyone. It is an asset. Mr Vallance has also created a Charity relating to the museum.
However, with Mr Vallance raising his head with respect to planning, there are now rumors the council may even take action against him and the site. I am concerned for the museum, and his health. I believe, that contrary to the barriers the council may/are putting in his way, they ought instead to be congratulating him, and helping him to maintain the site, promote the site and secure the cultural asset. After all, this citizen has done a quite extraordinary thing. The collection is important. It has been over three decades of work, and is virtually unknown, nationally.
During the latter stages of his planning applications, I myself (an observer with no vested interest who had come across the museum quite by chance), wrote to the Mole Valley council officers with my personal words of support. I also wrote in email. I did not receive a single reply, nor to telephone calls I left for them!
Mr Vallance has also found the council difficult to deal with I understand. I believe that elected officials should wish to respond to serious letters made by the public. In this case, especially so. They have no done so to me.
To summarise: This museum is important. A citizen has created it against all odds using their own resources, commitment and that unique United Kingdom eccentricity we all appreciate and love. Please can you intervene and encourage the council to look at this another way? I am sure that some 'bad blood' has flowed between Mr Vallance and the council. That must be put to one side in favor of the importance of the museum.
I realize you have no knowledge of the site or museum yourself, but if you would like to visit it, I would be happy to accompany you of one or more of your colleagues.
I believe that, if only for local schools, or those further afield, this is an important resource. For historians even more so.
I am interested in hearing your views at your earliest opportunity, since I don't want 'events' instigated by Mole Valley Council to overtake us with no way back.
Sincerely and urgently,
URLS for the museum such as they are: