|1990 – the announcement of the closure of the Kingston site
With the ending of the Cold War, large numbers of aircraft for the protection of Western Europe were no longer required – the future requirement was for a smaller number of multi-role aircraft. This led British Aerospace to rationalize its military aircraft division. Kingston was vulnerable because of its relatively small size and the decision was taken to focus production on a few sites, mostly in the north of England.
However, Michael relates how this announcement came at a time when Kingston had been earmarked as ‘a site of the future’. There were major developments and projects underway on the site which had to be completed and contractual obligations fulfilled.
It was a bitter economic blow to Kingston which at one stroke lost its largest employer with a workforce of some 4,000 people.
It was 1990 wasn’t it when it was announced that Kingston was going to close? You must have had very, very mixed feelings about that.
Yes I did have mixed feelings. In fact you might say they were not mixed, I was disappointed because I just didn’t want to see the place close. I was disappointed that the ‘powers that be’ hadn’t recognised, as I think Sir Colin Chandler had, that we had moved, we had changed the business and that there was a lot going for the Kingston site.
However, in a perverse way, another challenge set about and this is an interesting aspect. The decision to close… Let me just go back to 1986, the announcement of the closure of the Weybridge site. We were suddenly flung into a major development of Kingston site to accommodate a lot of the people that they wanted to move from Weybridge to Kingston [and also some to Dunsfold].
So that meant ripping out whole areas and rebuilding and putting new buildings up to accommodate them in a very short space of time. And sadly to me, management didn’t always realise, or want to realise perhaps, that there’s a process you have to go through. If you want to put a new building up you have to get planning permission. There are building control regulations to meet and these don’t happen overnight. You’ve got to have drawings produced and so on.
But some people could make a decision – we’re closing the site. 1986, by the end of the year it’s closed, you’ve got a few thousand people to accommodate. And it was quite a challenge to do. So that was rather perverse.
But then again, 1986 wasn’t far removed from the time the decision was made for the closure of the Kingston site. So we were going uphill accommodating people, new buildings and the Kingston site was going to be ‘the site of the future’. And a newspaper was produced for all employees and residents of the area – I have a copy still, the same was produced for Dunsfold – extolling the virtues of the site and the business and the benefits to the community: employment, training and a range of contract businesses that survive – even the local milkman probably and food suppliers. And a whole range of people and the cleaners. All relied upon the factory for their livelihoods.
It was the biggest employer in Kingston, by a long stretch.
We were, we were, yes. And the amount of money was the biggest amount of money that went from any business into the local economy.
So I had the situation that we had a number of major projects going on and some only just starting at the time of the decision to close.
Now we were locked into contracts and you have to ask, is the penalty of cancelling the contract greater than completing the project. In some cases we had to complete the project knowing that – and the metal treatment facility was one of those – and it wasn’t going to be used. So, yes, it was a challenge even in closing the site I found that – pleasure is not the correct word – but it was a challenge to see that done and conducted.