How a piece of Lancashire's aerospace history is being used to resurface the county's roads

The surface of an abandoned runway at the former Samlesbury Aerodrome has taken off on a second life as part of a scheme that will see it recycled for use on Lancashire's roads.
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The huge expanse of asphalt was previously part of the BAE Systems base at the South Ribble site and has an 80-year history as the testbed for dozens of cutting-edge aircraft.

It is currently being dug up as work continues in preparation for the expansion of the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone, which it is hoped will be a magnet for high-tech jobs.

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The old aerodrome runway has its surface removedThe old aerodrome runway has its surface removed
The old aerodrome runway has its surface removed
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However, rather than consigning the rubble from the runway to landfill, Lancashire County Council has worked with highway industry experts to turn some of it into a new material which is being used to resurface rural roads.

In what is thought to be a unique initiative, the authority has slashed the usual level of carbon dioxide emissions associated with pothole-filling and road resurfacing by around a third.

Approximately 17,000 tonnes of the recycled runway material is being used to resurface roads in Burnley, Pendle, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, and Wyre this summer. Any of it that is left over is intended to be used to repair other routes as part of the county council's annual capital maintenance programme.

County Cllr Rupert Swarbrick, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said of the scheme: "The Samlesbury Aerodrome has been the birthplace for decades of technological innovation and I'm very pleased that we're playing our own part in this as we prepare for future construction at the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone, which will secure the future of high-tech industry at this site.

The waste material from the runway being processed on siteThe waste material from the runway being processed on site
The waste material from the runway being processed on site
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"We're increasingly taking advantage of developments in the highways industry such as the availability of recycled asphalt to reduce the environmental impact of maintaining our roads. As well as helping to cut our carbon footprint, we no longer have the waste - and cost - of disposing of the old road surface.

"Another real positive with this scheme is that, due to the sheer size of the old runway, we're using a special machine to recycle the material directly at Samlesbury before taking it straight to the sites where it will be used to resurface our roads, significantly cutting the road miles which would otherwise be travelled to process it beforehand," County Cllr Swarbrick added.

His cabinet colleague Shaun Turner - who holds the environment and climate change portfolio at County Hall - said that it was “very fitting” for new technology to be able to give another lease of life to old infrastructure.

"The purpose of the Enterprise Zone is to bring together a cluster of businesses with expertise in cyber, robotics, research and development, and advanced manufacturing, providing the opportunity for them to collaborate and grow even more strongly by being in close proximity to each other and BAE Systems.

The material from the Samlesbury runway has been used on roads in all corners of Lancashire - including here, on Burnley Road in RossendaleThe material from the Samlesbury runway has been used on roads in all corners of Lancashire - including here, on Burnley Road in Rossendale
The material from the Samlesbury runway has been used on roads in all corners of Lancashire - including here, on Burnley Road in Rossendale
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"There continues to be strong interest from potential occupiers in coming to Samlesbury and we are currently working with them to understand their accommodation requirements and secure their future at this exciting and developing site."

The recycling operation is due to be finished by October so that redevelopment of the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone site can progress.

HOW DOES IT WORK AND WHERE WILL IT BE USED?

The recycled material being rolled out on the county’s roads is used to form an initial base layer, with the final 'surface course' of the routes being repaired then laid on top of it.

County Cllrs Rupert Swarbrick and Shaun TurnerCounty Cllrs Rupert Swarbrick and Shaun Turner
County Cllrs Rupert Swarbrick and Shaun Turner

The Samlesbury waste has - or will be - used to upgrade roads across five Lancashire boroughs:

Burnley - Crown Point Road

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Pendle - Pasture Lane, Barrowford; Keighley Road, Trawden; and junction 13 of the M65, at Nelson

Ribble Valley - Gisburn Road and Smalden Lane in Bolton by Bowland; Worston Road, Clitheroe; and Howgill Lane, Rimington

Rossendale – Burnley Road and the Rawtenstall Spur (A682)

Wyre - Woods Lane, Inskip, and Sandy Lane, Preesall

THE WHEELS OF INDUSTRY - AND HISTORY

The runway at Samlesbury has played a key role in the development of dozens of aircraft since the aerodrome was established in the 1940s. The first aircraft wholly designed and built at the site was the English Electric Canberra, which had its maiden flight in 1949.

The iconic English Electric Lightning was also built at Samlesbury, although most of the Lightnings did only their first flights from the site - a short hop to Warton, on the Fylde, with a partial fuel load. Samlesbury’s runway was considered too short for regular Lightning flying.

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Hannah Swindell, head of sustainability at BAE Systems Air, said that the company was keen to support initiatives like the runway recycling scheme “which help reduce the environmental impact on our communities”.

She added: "Like Lancashire County Council, we are committed to driving down our carbon emissions and helping the drive towards net zero - and being able to support this activity is just a small example of that in action."