Fresh calls for developers to start on Pinebanks after fire

PUBLISHED: 10:51 18 July 2014 | UPDATED: 10:51 18 July 2014

Fire fighters at Pinebanks tackling the blaze which broke out in the early hours. Photo: Bill Smith

Fire fighters at Pinebanks tackling the blaze which broke out in the early hours. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

Fresh calls have been made for developers to start work on Thorpe St Andrew’s Pinebanks site after a devastating fire ripped through former sports and social club.

Empty since 2008 and plans for homes

Pinebanks was formerly a Norwich Union sports centre, where dozens of sports clubs were based.

In February, 2008 members were informed by Norwich Union that the site would be shutting, and more than 30 sport societies were left searching for a new home.

In December 2009 it emerged that Jersey-based Berliet Ltd had purchased the site from Norwich Union, but the company said at the time it had no firm plans and the site might not be developed for five years.

Local residents and councillors warned that any development would need to include sports facilities and in May 2012, developer Ocubis revealed some initial plans.

However, they did not come before Broadland District Council’s planning committee until early 2013.

Councillors voted against the plans that time, saying they were unhappy that the Victorian Pinebanks house was to be demolished and about the low level of affordable housing on the site.

Revised plans for 231 homes at Pinebanks, alongside 71 homes at the nearby Griffin Lane site which is also being developed by Ocubis, were approved in June last year.

The plans were for the original Pinebanks house to be retained, 30pc of affordable housing across the two sites and £3.5m to be paid by the developers for various community benefits, including £1.7m for a new sports hall at Thorpe St Andrew School, as part of a “sports hub” intended to replace some of the lost sports facilities from Pinebanks.

Other benefits included £140,000 for a skate park at Dussindale Recreation Ground, cricket facilities and to bring disused football pitches back into use, and £400,000 for a new community centre on the Griffin Lane site.

The blaze in the early hours of yesterday morning destroyed most of the original part of the Victorian villa and at its height 66 firefighters battled to keep it from spreading to other parts of the building.

Now families living near to the site, between Yarmouth Road, School Lane and White Farm Lane, have called for development to be started to avoid any further incidents at the derelict property.

In November residents spoke of their fears after hordes of people trying to enter an illegal rave at Pinebanks threatened to overwhelm police before hurling bottles and vandalising police cars.

The fire, which could be seen from as far away as Whitlingham, has heightened concerns for the safety of the area.

Developer’s statement

A spokesman for Ocubis Ltd, development managers for site owner Berliet Ltd, said: “Having been alerted to this devastating fire by our security contractors, who attended site only last week to provide additional boarding-up to windows and doors that had recently been used for the unlawful entry to our buildings, we instructed them to be on-site assisting the fire and rescue services.

“As soon as the fire and rescue services have assessed the remainder of the buildings we will take all necessary steps to make them safe.

“In order to do so, it is likely that we will have to undertake some controlled demolition on the advice of the local authority building control and fire brigade.”

The contractor, Attleborough-based Anglian Demolition and Asbestos, finished boarding up the site last Friday.

Lee Storer, managing director of Anglian Demolition, said: “Glass had been put in all round on the ground floor so we took security measures such as boarding up, making sure gates had new locks on them and making a visual inspection of the site.

“It isn’t safe at all now and we would recommend the chimneys and old tower need to come down very soon.”

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service sent crews from across Norfolk after the alarm was first raised at 1.26am yesterday. They left the scene last night at 10.30pm and were expected to return this morning.

Incident commander Greg Preston said: “When we arrived we found a well-developed fire in the old part of the building, with flames going through the roof and spreading quickly because of the timber construction.

“Our initial actions were to prevent the fire spreading to the other parts of the building and to make sure there was nobody in the building, because it’s not unusual to get rough sleepers in empty buildings.”

There has been extensive damage to the old part of the building, but about 70pc of the venue was saved.

Mr Preston added: “It’s too early for our investigators to go in but when we get to a point where the building is safe to do so we will investigate further.” Raymond Howard, who lives in School Lane with his wife Betty, first raised the alarm after spotting the fire in the early hours.

The 80-year-old said: “We were going to bed quite late last night and I looked out the window and flames were coming out of the top of the building. It just went up in seconds.

“It was a massive fire, with flames up to 80 to 100 feet, and you just don’t know about it spreading.

“It was scary because it’s in the middle of all of the trees. Imagine if the whole lot had caught light.

“What a shame, they were the two buildings they were going to rebuild.”

Mr Howard said there was frequent instances of vandalism at the site and added: “They want to get on with it – it’s a nightmare. It used to be beautiful. It used to be one of the best spots and kept immaculately.”

Thorpe St Andrew Town Mayor John Ward, who lives on nearby White Farm Lane, said: “Most of the people on my road see development as something that’s inevitable.

“The feeling is that the plans presented are the best we are likely to get and we look forward to it being developed. It’s disappointing it’s been left for so long with nothing being done. It’s just an open invitation to vandalism.”

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