It was announced on 5 April that the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre had received what it called “a devastating blow” to its plans to relocate to a new site, after Cornwall Council insisted the museum must vacate its current premises immediately, even though the new location will not be ready for at least 12 to 18 months.
The CAHC, situated at Newquay Airport — the former RAF St Mawgan — had been forced to shut its doors at the end of October 2022, as the council terminated the centre’s lease on its site. This led to an online petition to save the museum attracting more than 40,000 signatures, and talks on an alternative location adjacent to the airport, which would have retained the collection in its entirety. This location was offered by local land-owner and businessman Rundle Weldhen, while entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Lancaster of SDL Ltd/SDL Foundation pledged £1 million towards the relocation effort.
A news release said the CAHC and Mark Lancaster were negotiating to remain at the current premises and trade until December 2023, so as to raise additional funds and prepare the new site but, on 24 March, this request was refused, “even though the airport and council have not published any plans for the existing premises once they have been vacated by CAHC.”
The council had stated it would support the museum if it presented “a credible and deliverable proposal to relocate”, but it subsequently insisted that the CAHC “vacate its current premises immediately”. Thus, on 4 April the council formally advised the CAHC that it must clear the entire site and move all its exhibits by 11 April — just a week later — otherwise the council’s agent will “make arrangements for them to be disposed of.”
The CAHC reported that the airport had agreed to allow some space on its disused runway to temporarily store certain aircraft while they were prepared for transport or scrapping, while the council had scheduled a meeting for 13 April to discuss storage options for the more vulnerable indoor aircraft and heritage exhibits, some of which need to be protected while arrangements are put in place to return them to their RAF, Royal Navy and private owners. “This meeting”, said the centre, “now appears to have been unilaterally abandoned, without any advice from the council.”
Museum founder and director Richard Spencer-Breeze said that clearing the site by 11 April, during the Easter weekend, was “completely impossible”. He added, “Are they mad? We only received notification that Mark Lancaster’s proposal for CAHC to trade until December had been refused 10 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 eight 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.”
The news about the CAHC came just after Virgin Orbit, a major partner with Cornwall Council in the Spaceport Cornwall facility at Newquay Airport — and its only operator in possession of a horizontal launch capability, in the form of its ex-Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 — filed for bankruptcy protection following the failure of a recent test launch. Expansion of the spaceport was cited as a reason for forcing the CAHC to move out of its existing location. The council has said it remains committed to the spaceport, into which it has invested a reported £12 million.