The agreement for the expansion of the Portland Heliport site has now been signed – after months of negotiating terms and conditions.
Councilors in Dorset have unanimously approved the ‘in principle’ proposal in autumn 2021 for a large hangar, near the Portland Harbor waterfront, with accommodation for pilots and crew.
The agreement just reached between the council and the site operators includes an index-linked payment of just over £4,000 for mitigating the “adverse effects of development on the integrity of the Chesil and Fleet European sites “.
The next step in the process, approval of the landscaping of the site, should be accepted unopposed by Dorset Council. Approval must also be given, before the start of work on the site, to a surface water management plan.
There had been concerns about the effects the expansion would have on nearby residents, Portland Castle and the natural environment, but the company said there was unlikely to be an increase in thefts or hours of use of the site.
When the proposal was first presented in 2020, fears about noise were among residents’ top concerns.
Portland Councilor Paul Kimber said last year: “I understand that HeliOps may replace its existing Sea King Mark 41s with a new aircraft, the Sea Lion. We are concerned that their proposal for a new maintenance hangar will require the engines to be tested on the ground, which will lead to more noise and pollution.
Similar concerns came from nearby ward councilor Brian Heatley who told the council’s planning team: ‘There has been considerable public concern about the noise created by the existing HeliOperations flights over Portland and also across above the adjacent Rodwell and Wyke neighborhoods that I represent… Statement by HeliOperations that the new building will not cause any increase in noise nuisance cuts little ice to local residents; it is the current level that is unacceptable… If there is a satisfactory solution to the noise problem, I support the request, if not I oppose it.
The bulk of the site expansion will be a new building, alongside existing commercial buildings, for the service and maintenance of helicopters, most of which must be brought to Portland by road.
Planning officials acknowledged concerns about helicopter engine noise and pollution concerns, but said none of the issues were addressed in the planning proposal, with the site currently having no boundaries on flight times.
About 30 public letters had opposed the proposal – some claiming that the four-story building would not match neighboring buildings.
More than a hundred letters had been written to Dorset Council in support of the plans, many pointing out that Portland had, for decades, been a helicopter base.
The new building will accommodate three helicopters at a time, more if the rotor arms are not in place, for maintenance and upkeep that can take up to four months at a time.
The proposal also allows for an increase from 32 to 70 parking spaces on the site.
The Osprey Quay site provides search and rescue training for UK and overseas crews, as well as its maintenance and engineering work. Until 1999 it was part of the former Portland Naval Base, with the site then being used by search and rescue until June 2017.
HeliOperations company chief executive Steve Gladstone told councilors at the time of preliminary application approval that the Portland site provides significant economic benefits to the region, including 40 well-paying local jobs, the company sourcing materials and services from local businesses when they could. .
The new building will extend at right angles from the existing shed towards the harbor along units 22-26 of Osprey Quay to the west. A large glass facade will dominate the port with 12 bedrooms and training rooms. The building will also include offices, crew rooms and a flight and winch simulator.