Challenges facing Wells in creating jobs and retaining town’s tourism appeal are highlighted at meeting

PUBLISHED: 06:30 08 February 2013

The Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm.  Picture: Ian Burt

The Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

The challenges of bringing jobs and economic growth to the Wells area while retaining the town’s tourism appeal were highlighted when town councillors backed controversial proposals for a green energy business park.

At a packed meeting of Wells Town Council this week, councillors unanimously backed plans to allow companies supporting the offshore energy industry to set up premises at 28-hectare site at Egmere, four miles south of Wells, without applying for planning permission.

We have previously reported how North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) wants to establish its first so-called Local Development Order (LDO) at Egmere.

The LDO would grant permission, subject to conditions, for specific developments described within it. This would mean it would not be necessary for developers to submit planning applications for proposals to build warehouses and offices at the site.

These businesses would then use the port of Wells to serve wind farms off the north Norfolk coast.

NNDC is carrying out a public consultation on the LDO proposal.

NNDC corporate director Steve Blatch and leader Tom FitzPatrick explained to town councillors that, by fast-tracking the planning process, they would encourage businesses to the district and create good jobs for local people.

Mr FitzPatrick said regulations would be in place to ensure there would not be a “free-for-all.”

Mr Blatch said discussions were being held to deal with issues of the residents of Bunkers Hill, Egmere.

Concern was raised by Wells resident Peter Rainsford about the possible conflict of interest between the needs of a commercial port and those of Wells beach.

Mr Blatch informed the meeting that NNDC did not have authority to impose restrictions on the levels of marine traffic and this was a matter for the port authority.

He did, however, say that he thought discussions should be had by all parties to endeavour to strike a balance for all users.

Harbour master Robert Smith said he supported the LDO proposal. He said it was unlikely to result in more vessels using the outer harbour than there has been over the last three years. He said the size of the outer harbour would not be increased.

After the meeting Mr Rainsford said: “It was pleasing to hear the harbour master say this but there is no guarantee of this and nothing formal is being put in place to protect the beach.

“Nobody is taking responsibility for the beach, which is so important to Wells.

“I understand the importance of bringing jobs and economic growth to Wells but I fear if there is no plan for the beach it could eventually just become the hard shoulder of a marine motorway.”

During the meeting the town council also gave its unconditional support for the dredging operations of Wells Harbour Commissioners.

The harbour commissioners have applied for a new dredging licence and are expecting a response in March.

A public consultation closed on January 14 but it was discussed at the Wells Town Council meeting at the request of councillor Roger Arguile.

Mr Arguile had put forward a proposal for the town council to offer broad support to Wells Harbour Commissioners but for there to be more open debate about the dredging operations.

The council rejected this proposal and instead voted to give its full support to the harbour commissioners.

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