Victory in battle to save war-time airfield near Horsham ... for now

A battle by residents to save a war-time village airfield near Horsham from development has ended in victory – at least for the time being.
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Fifteen airmen tragically lost their lives at the historic airfield at Coolham during the Second World War and there has since been a long-running campaign to preserve the area as a permanent memorial.

But plans were put forward last year to demolish a barn on the airfield site and build two houses – sparking huge local opposition.

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Former Horsham police officer Paul Hamlin described any development as ‘an insult’ to the memory of airmen killed there.

Signs depict the historic war-time airfield at Coolham, near HorshamSigns depict the historic war-time airfield at Coolham, near Horsham
Signs depict the historic war-time airfield at Coolham, near Horsham

However, Horsham District Council this week turned down the development plans saying that insufficient information had been provided over ‘water neutrality’ and that the development ‘failed to reflect the rural character of the site.’

But there are concerns that an appeal could be lodged against the refusal. Paul Hamlin said: “We are the custodians of the cultural landscape at Coolham and it should be kept for future generations to enjoy without hindrance to our health and heritage.”

Coolham was one of seven locations across the south used as a temporary airbase during the war. Seven fighter squadrons were based there between April and July 1944 during which time 15 pilots and workers were killed, many of whom served in the Normandy landings and the liberation of France.

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Two special plaques at the site now pay tribute to their memory, along with a row of 15 commemorative trees.

Although the airbase has been turned back into fields, members of the public are still able to walk a two mile stretch around the edge of the runway.

People from across the world visit the site, including the descendents of Polish airmen killed in the conflict.

A flood of protest letters were sent to Horsham District Council when development plans were first revealed. One said: “This historic site should be preserved and available for future generations to walk round and learn about.”

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Another said: “The land itself is of very historical significance and value, and should be protected.”

Another queried: “This site commemorates the bravery and memory of those who helped to save Great Britain from invasion during World War Two. Is this site to be desecrated by the building of new houses for commercial gain?”