Saturday, January 12, 2013
RAF Coltishall has been bought by Norfolk County Council for £4m, with council leaders insisting the purchase is good value for taxpayers.
Months of talks over the future of the former Battle of Britain station, which closed with the loss of 650 jobs six years ago, came to an end yesterday, with the council officially taking over the 600-acre site.
The council’s decision to buy the base from the Ministry of Justice, has attracted criticism, with question marks over whether the authority should be spending such an amount at a time when it is having to make cuts and savings.
But council leaders and officers, during a tour of the base yesterday, insisted the base was well worth the outlay and would create a “significant income stream” for the council.
The council says it is still coming up with ideas for what to do with the base, but possibilities put forward include returning some of the land for farming, offering hangers and some of the other 300 buildings at the site for businesses and providing housing.
The runway could be ripped up to use as aggregate, with the council having previously suggested that could be used in the proposed northern distributor road, but councillors said there were other options such as keeping the runway and lining it with solar panels.
As well as the initial £4m outlay, figures provided by the council showed once other costs, including £1m on infrastructure improvements, site security and immediate repairs are taken into account, the total bill for taking on the base is £6.5m.
However, the council says selling off land, including for up to 250 homes, would net an estimated £3.6m, and breaking up roads to sell as aggregate would raise a further £2m.
They estimate that annual revenue from employment, storage, agricultural uses and solar panels would bring in £662,300 a year within five years.
Cliff Jordan, cabinet member for efficiency, said: “It has been a long and challenging road to get to the stage where we are now, but I am delighted that we can now announce that the county council has bought the site and we are ready to realise its long term potential.
“I am convinced that the price we have paid for the site represents excellent value for money for council taxpayers and that, over time, it can generate a very useful income for the authority.
“No ideas are set in stone and we very much welcome the thoughts of local people and those from more widely across Norfolk. Equally we are open to suggestions regarding a new name for the site.”
The council is working with Cold War experts from the University of East Anglia and English Heritage over how to make the most of the rich military heritage of the site, possibly through a heritage trail.
Another option is to create community woodland and allotments for local people.
But Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development, said suggestions that Norwich International Airport should move there, or that it could be used as another airport did not make good sense.
She said there had already been considerable interest from businesses keen to set up at the base and that it would benefit all of Norfolk.
She said: “We feared the site could remain unsold or bought speculatively and left unused for even longer. This is why we have purchased it for the benefit of local people and the wider Norfolk economy.”
Norfolk County Council chairman Ian Monson yesterday raised the flag of Norfolk on the re-installed flagpole at the base, saying it represented a “new dawn”.
Rival bidder Bruce Giddy, managing director of the Hans House Group of Companies, had bid £4.1m for the base. He wanted to install a 250-acre solar farm, to create a heritage centre and aviation museum and to offer a home to engineering and aircraft-building firms.
The Badersfield Residents Campaign Committee has also expressed its concerns about the plan, opposing digging up of the runway and any plan for wind turbines there.
Steve Riley, chairman of the committee has questioned which businesses would want to set up there, so far from major roads.
He submitted a petition to the council, signed by 82pc of residents on the Badersfield estate, saying the householders would rather see a solar farm and the development as a fully intact base.
But Barbara Rix, Broadland District councillor for Buxton ward, said: “I am fully supportive of Norfolk County Council buying the site, as are the local people I have spoken with. “It has been sad to see the site left disused for so long, especially when we are so desperate for jobs in the area.
“We need to have the site in use as soon as possible, especially as this year is not going to be a happy year economically, so anything that can be done to create employment opportunities can only be a good thing.”
The council is still looking for suggestions about what the base should be used for and will meet the Coltishall community liaison reference group, on Monday.
A master plan for the base’s future is due to be published in June.