Dismay and delight at news that Norfolk County Council hopes to buy former RAF Coltishall
16:17 31 May 2012
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Reaction among the local community and other interested parties to news that Norfolk County Council is poised to buy former RAF Coltishall ranges from “utter dismay” to cautious delight.
Bruce Giddy, managing director of rival bidder Hans House, said he thought the move was “a tragedy in the making” and predicted “quite a big bust up” among the public when the county revealed what he believed to be their “asset-stripping” detailed plans for the site, which closed in 2006 with the loss of hundreds of jobs.
The council announced yesterday that it ws owner the Ministry of Justice’s preferred bidder for the 600-acre site which it hoped to buy for “several million pounds”,
Although no masterplan has yet been produced, council leaders have suggested that most of the site should be used for agriculture, with former RAF buildings converted into homes and refurbished aircraft hangars offered to businesses.
Mr Giddy’s Hans House Group of Companies has offered £4.1m cash for the site and wants to save the former Battle of Britain’s historic buildings to turn them into a heritage centre and museum.
He said their scheme would keep the aerodrome and its historic buildings intact whereas he believed the council would “parcel up and sell off as many buildings as possible in order to get its money back.”
The multi-faceted Hans House scheme would also feature a solar farm either side of the runway, and include agricultural machinery production, training, education and care facilities.
“Norfolk County Council have known about this site for six years - why haven’t they done anything about it before?” asked Mr Giddy.
He claimed his scheme “ticked all the boxes” of powerful organisations such as English Heritage and the Department of Environment, and had the backing of the Spirit of Coltishall Association, a body of ex-service people from the base.
The county council has said it would buy the base using cash from council tax on second homes and new homes bonus money, and was confident the investment would be offset by rents and sales receipts.
Mr Giddy said: “The Hans House bid is fully funded without recourse to third party debt, whereas the Norfolk County Council’s bid is reliant upon the possibly contentious diversion of Norfolk taxpayers’ cash.”
Hans House would not be interested in talking to the council about possibly renting or buying parts of the site because: “We would not want to see our scheme watered down. We feel we hold the moral high ground,” he added.
Simon Shaw, chairman of Scottow Parish Council, said he wanted to hear more detail about the plans but his initial reaction was that it would be very good for the area.
Comments from the Badersfield community’s Facebook page
● Matthew Charles Clarkson “Hmmm. I guess it’s good it’s being purchased but to me I think it would be better as a flying museum or anything aviation related... I see they mention some housing. I hope they couldn’t pitch this as their plan and then sell the land at a massive profit for building shed-loads of housing on?!?”
● Cheryl Bradshaw: “I really don’t want the council to but it. I can’t help feeling that if they do the site will be ruined. I agree with you Matthew, it should be aviation related!”
● “Philip Dodd: This will ruin our community!! We need to oppose this!!
● Jason Baxter: “I would like to see how they propose to provide the infrastructure to service any housing development. I’m sure none of us would like all the additional traffic that would bring past our front doors. And, when it comes to selling our properties here, as a buyer would you like a brand spanking-new house or an old one?!”
● Richard Sims: “How on earth has the council found the money for this after making so many people redundant and cutting hours? And now they want to ruin our beautiful estate by placing those that have been moved out of city council estates into ‘affordable housing’ on our estate. I hope they are unable to sleep at night.
There will hopefully be an estate agent coming to the estate soon as they will be very busy selling our houses as we move out!!!”
“Anything is better than seeing the site fall into an even worse state of repair than it is already,” he said.
The closure of the base had led to the loss of many jobs and created a large hole in the local economy.
“From what I can see the county council want to provide lots of jobs for local people which would be very welcome,” added Mr Shaw whose family owned and farmed the majority of the base site before it was requisitioned for military use by the government in the build up to the second world war.
He felt his family had been let down when attempts to get the land back after the war, based on the famous Crichel Down case, were rejected on the grounds that its use had physically changed.
Mr Shaw was also keen to point out that most of the base fell within the parish of Scottow, with a smaller part in neighbouring Lammas. It only gained its RAF name because Coltishall had been the nearest railway station. “Absolutely none of it lies within the parish of Coltishall,” he added.
Rev Anthony Long, Vicar of Scottow, said the county’s initial plans “sound excellent.” He added: “I would like to see as much as possible returned to agriculture with plenty of affordable housing for young people and the chance of jobs there.”
Sean Isme runs the general store at Badersfield, the civilian community which moved into former RAF Coltishall homes. Another part of the old base is also already in use, as HMP Bure prison.
Mr Isme felt Badersfield residents would be relieved at anything which stopped the rot as the parts of the base on the market were fast deteriorating through neglect.
“But I think a lot of people would like to see the old airfield brought back into use in some way. We’ve got a lot of ex-service people who live here,” he added.
Kyle and Dane Corby, twin brothers who bought and refurbished the old RAF Coltishall church hall, renaming it the Battle of Britain Memorial Hall, said they would welcome more jobs on the site and for the base to become part of the local community again.
But Kyle said they would not support any move to dig up the runway for farmland and would like to see planes flying there again.
“We’d also like them to bring back the old Jaguar gate-guard,” he added.
Matthew and Alison Starling, new owners of the former Three Horseshoes pub at Scottow, said they were still exploring ideas for the building which had been closed for several months at the time they bought it.
The Horsehoes was once the drinking haunt of RAF Coltishall second world war heroes including Douglas Bader, Standford Tuck and “Sailor” Malan.
“Any progress on the site is good news for the local economy in general,” said the Starlings. “However, the council`s work is unlikely to bear fruit for a number of years and in business, and when dealing with fragile buildings, it is essential to move quickly and take action appropriate to current circumstances. Therefore we are not considering any change of plan at this time.”
The council intends to set up a community liaison group to discuss the base’s future use.
A masterplan is scheduled in mid August, with the purchase completed at about the same time. Businesses interested in moving on to the site would be invited to open days in July and September and officers hope buildings at could be brought back into use within 12 months.
Cliff Jordan, the county’s cabinet member for efficiency said today: “We have clearly stated our intention to draw up an outline master plan in the coming months but do envisage returning most of the site - including much of that currently covered by main runway - to productive agricultural use as it was before the RAF took over the site in the 1930s.
“We are hoping that by providing new land for our County Farms Estate we can give people a rung on the ladder into a career in agriculture.”
Mr Jordan said the council would consult and work with others including English Heritage and people on the liaison group but already knew the importance Norfolk attached to the site’s history and its heritage assets.
He added: “We will not be reacting to Mr Giddy’s comments other than to state his own bid has clearly not impressed the MoJ.”