(A Welsh-language version of this briefing can be found here).
The UK Government has been complicit in the Saudi war against Yemen. They are resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the Yemeni conflict just over a year after such deals were ruled unlawful and have also allowed Saudi pilots to be trained at RAF Valley on Ynys Môn prior to carrying out bombing raids.
With space at a premium at RAF Valley, moves are now afoot to establish a new Air Traffic Zone by Snowdonia Aerospace at Llanbedr Airfield in Gwynedd with the ultimate aim of training pilots (both RAF and from abroad) to fly into war zones.
• Ethical considerations: Estimates suggest that over 20,000 civilians have been killed and injured by fighting in Yemen since March 2015, whilst a man-made humanitarian crisis has spiralled with approximately 16 million people waking up hungry every day. In 2018, it emerged that 30 Saudi pilots had undertaken training at RAF Valley, in addition to the UK Government’s indirect support for the Saudi forces through arms deals. A recent report suggests 30 further Saudi pilots trained at RAF Valley last year, and 78 BAE Systems employees are also based at the site, further underlining the cosy relationship between arms companies and the military they supply. The proposed expansion of activities at Llanbedr – as well as being undesirable in their own right – will further add to Wales’ culpability in human rights violations in Yemen.
In addition to the usage by the RAF, arms companies will continue to use the airfield for drone testing. Clearly if these all develop projects at Llanbedr, it will be little more thana site dedicated to enabling killing, hiding behind a façade of civilian drone development.
Furthermore, Gwynedd Council invested £500,000 of taxpayer’s money in 2017 on infrastructure improvements for Llanbedr Airfield. Cymdeithas y Cymod voiced its fears at the time that this would precipitate the use of the site by military and arms interests, but the council said there was “no mention of a plan to develop weapons / drones” at the site; it now seems that Cymdeithas y Cymod’s fears were justified.
The cost to the public purse, both in terms of financial support for the airfield’s development, and of flights themselves, could be better directed towards supporting health and care services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Financial considerations: Snowdonia Aerospace claim their plans could bring up to 500 jobs and contribute about £19.5m to the local economy over ten years. Cymdeithas y Cymod have asked for details of how many of these jobs will be available to the local workforce, and an explanation of how the £19.5m figure was arrived at. No answers have yet been forthcoming. Without such reassurance, any claims of the financial benefit of the scheme should be treated with extreme caution.
Furthermore, no thought has been given to the impact of additional flights on North Wales’ tourist industry, which is already on its knees as a result of COVID-19. A huge number of jobs in the wider Ardudwy and Meirionnydd coastal areas are dependent on tourism, which would be heavily undermined by an additional 50 flights a day (see below) and the attendant noise.
• Local disruption / aircraft movements: The application from Snowdonia Aerospace to the Civil Aviation Authority asks for a significant increase in air traffic at Llanbedr. Snowdonia Aerospace’s own briefing states: “Air traffic at Llanbedr currently averages approximately 900 movements per year and the current projection is for between 4,000 and 6,000 movements per year”. In fact, if Snowdonia Aerospace’s suggested maximum of 50 flights per day was reached, the total could much higher – a clear indication that the increased use of the airfield is predominantly for RAF purposes.
As well as the clear environmental impact (see below), these additional flights will see a further rise in complaints from Gwynedd and Môn about the unbearable noise level made by these planes. Local communities are living with unacceptable levels of noise pollution in order to support British and Saudi military interests.
• Environmental considerations: Both the Welsh Government and Gwynedd Council have committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2030 as part of a wider response to the climate emergency. No statement has been given by either organisation on the impact of an additional 4,000 flight movements each year on their commitments.
•For the reasons set out above, we believe that there should be no expansion of military activities at Llanbedr Airfield by the Ministry of Defence and the RAF.
•The Welsh Government owns the Llanbedr Airfield site, which is leased to Snowdonia Aerospace on a long-term contract.The Welsh Government should withdraw support for any new Air Traffic Zone which will directly or indirectly support the training of Saudi forces. Furthermore,the Welsh Government should abandon its policy of welcoming with open arms the arms industry to Wales and instead look to create jobs which use the relevant skills in a peaceful manner.
•Gwynedd Council needs to justify to citizens its financial support for an expansion of military training activities at Llanbedr, as well as answering whether or not the promised £25m of European, Welsh Government and private-sector funding has been unlocked. Furthermore, an explanation is required of how additional flights can be accommodated within the council’s carbon commitments.
We invite you to send a copy of the above briefing to your MP and/or your Members of the Senedd.
Thanks to Ibrahem Qasim for the above photograph (used under Creative Commons), showing a house destroyed by bombing in Sanaa in Yemen.