Plans resurface for controversial visitor centre at Billingford lakes

PUBLISHED: 10:02 09 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:02 09 February 2014

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2012

Controversial plans for a visitor centre at a mid-Norfolk beauty spot have been resurrected by the landowner in a bid to offer a compromise to planners and objectors.

The former Cemex quarry at Billingford has been transformed into nine lakes by owner Basil Todd which are currently used for fishing and to attract wildlife.

Previous applications by the Dereham businessman for a visitor centre and camping pods have been strongly opposed by local parish councils and countryside organisations and refused by Breckland planners.

Mr Todd is appealing against the decision to refuse his last application in 2012, along with another application to retain an extended agricultural building – which was also recently turned down.

But now Mr Todd, who owns the Wensum Valley Golf Club at Taverham, is offering a solution – to convert the agricultural building into the visitor centre, negating the need for another building on the site.

In a design and access statement submitted with his fresh application to Breckland Council, Mr Todd’s architect states that the building would require “minimal” alteration to its appearance but could also accommodate a cafe and kitchen, as well as shower and toilet facilities. It was, he says, viewed by his client as “an ideal place where visitors can fish, walk and view wildlife”.

The plans also propose 10 camping pods overlooking the pond and seven Scandinavian-style timber lodges to provide dormitory accommodation for school children, Scouts and Guides wishing to stay overnight. Two camping areas are proposed with an existing portable building – which currently provides sanitary facilities for fishermen –to be replaced with a building to serve the campsites with shower facilities, washing machine, fresh water and waste points. There would also be three viewing hides and a parking area for up to 48 vehicles.

Mr Todd said the work he has already done and the proposed visitor centre only serve to enhance the area but he has also attracted criticism from those who say he has neglected to follow the necessary planning guidelines.

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) was unable to comment on the new plans but in an earlier report to planners James Parry, chairman of CPRE Norfolk, said they were particularly concerned at the extent to which “potentially damaging work” had already gone ahead at the site without the requisite permission and that little or nothing by way of enforcement had been implemented by Breckland Council.

Bill Borrett, leader of Norfolk County Council and Breckland councillor for Billingford, said he had yet to examine the new application but urged Mr Todd to follow planning policy which was something he had so far “failed to do”.

He added: “We all have to abide within the law and none of this fuss would have developed if Mr Todd had stayed within planning law. I am happy that our planning policy will provide the right outcome.”

Billingford, Swanton Morley, and Hoe and Worthing parish councils have previously objected on grounds of impact on wildlife, removal of trees and hedges, pollution and flood risk, impact on SSSI, light and noise pollution, impact on highway safety and damage to bridleway.

Mr Todd said he did not accept that there was only objections to it, saying: “Everyone wants it to happen. There are only a handful of objectors. I have had the ATC down and they want to hold a summer camp here but it can be used by scouts as well as schools.”

He said he hoped the fresh application would be seen as a good compromise, adding that out of 70 people he invited for an open day there was only one objector.

“There will be a little extra traffic on the road but nothing to worry about. I have widened the verges and there is good visibility.

“I just want to see people enjoying the wildlife.

“My time in the scouts was the best time of my life. My parents were poor as church mice and we never went on holiday so the only time I went away was on scout camp so this is about giving something back to them.”

What do you think? Write to or to the Community Editor, Dereham and Fakenham Times, Bond House, High Street, Dereham NR19 1DZ.

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