A BATTLE for Blackburn’s skies has broken out between a 72-year-old model aircraft enthusiast and the borough council.
Michael Parkinson faces removal from Pleasington playing fields by police if he flies his model aircraft there in the latest twist to an 18-month dogfight.
Blackburn with Darwen council has warned the pensioner it will take him to court, and remove him from the spot where he first took his remote-controlled plane aged 11, if he tries to fly any of his seven models there.
The Pendle Drive resident was refused membership of the Blackburn and District Model Aircraft Club, which organises the sport in the borough, and then banned from using the fields by the council in a dispute over its exclusive rights over who flies there.
Mr Parkinson, describing the latest moves as ‘laughable......a sledgehammer to crack a nut’, is prepared to risk being apprehended and taken to court over his right to fly.
A former Air Training Corps member, who helped pilot a Chipmunk in his youth, he is a member of the British Model Flying Association and fully trained and insured as legally required to pursue his hobby.
Mr Parkinson said: “This is my battle for Blackburn’s skies.
“It’s a small-scale ‘Battle of Britain’, one man on behalf of the few against the establishment over the right to fly a model aircraft in the skies over the town.”
The saga started in July 2012 when he returned to live in Blackburn full-time and applied to rejoin the model aircraft club he helped refound in 1972 as a committee member.
The following month he said he received a letter from Blackburn with Darwen council, which had been told he was flying without permission at Pleasington.
The letter informed him ‘the arrangements for the flying on council land are that the agreement is solely between the council and BDMAC’.
It added: “I have been informed that you are not a member of the BDMAC and therefore you do not have the council’s permission to fly any aircraft either at Pleasington playing fields or on any council land within the borough.”
Mr Parkinson, who has seven radio-controlled planes and gliders with wing-spans of up to 12 feet, disputes the agreement is exclusively for club members and then tried to fly his planes on the fields, being prevented by its officials.
His membership was refused, sparking a battle which has seen Mr Parkinson take club and council to court, dozens of letters and several meetings between the father-of-three and officials of both bodies.
In November last year, Deputy District Judge Keith Parr struck out his claim to be allowed the fly without rejoining BDMAC on the expectation he would be invited back to the club.
In October the council, which has run up legal costs of more than £3,000, offered Mr Parkinson and other non-members public flying times on Wednesdays and Saturdays and a promise of BDMAC membership in return an undertaking to ‘comply with club rules’.
Mr Parkinson refused in a nine-page letter disputing the legality of the club’s exclusive rights over flying.
Blackburn MP Jack Straw has tried to resolve the row .
Last month, Mr Parkinson received a letter from the council telling him: “You are advised not to fly your model aeroplane on the playing fields without express permission from the council or the club.
“In the event that you decide to otherwise the following action my follow: “1) a claim for an injunction, damages and costs; “2) You may be escorted from the playing fields using reasonable force with or without a police escort.”
Engineer Mr Parkinson said: “This is laughable. They are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
“All I want to do is fly my model aircraft from the fields where I started at the age of 11.
“I had been a member of the club on and off since then, before taking my yacht round the world. I always had a house in Blackburn and paid council tax.
“I admit I can be awkward but I would happily rejoin the club and pursue my complaints about the way they run the use of the field within it.
“It has never been an exclusive agreement. I helped draw it up.
“Unless this can be resolved quickly, I am minded to fly there and risk being escorted off the fields by the police and taken to court where I can prove my case. I have taken good legal advice at all stages.”
Borough leisure director Martin Eden said: “We work closely with the Blackburn and District Model Aircraft Club, to ensure that there is opportunity for safe flying, within permitted hours.
“The club has been granted a licence for its members to use the site, in a way which promotes the interests of safety and is a fair way to allocate facilities to all members of the public.”
BDMAC secretary Kevin Watson said: “The committee has a duty to ensure operations are conducted in accordance with the national guidance and regulatory requirements.
“The committee works hard to ensure this is a harmonious club where members can enjoy their chosen sport in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
“Mr Parkinson has previously initiated court proceedings against both the club and Blackburn Council. Both cases have been legally dismissed by the courts.”
Mr Straw said: “I would be happy to meet Mr Parkinson to discuss this issue.”