Stalham town councillor resigns following decision to buy old station yard site
22:47 03 September 2012
A Stalham town councillor has resigned following a decision to buy a key area of land at its prominent northern gateway during tonight’s town council meeting.
Roy Woolsey stepped down from his post after two thirds of the council decided to vote in favour of purchasing the site at the old station yard.
Speaking after the meeting he said: “I don’t think the town council is the right committee to develop the site.”
Norfolk County Council (NCC) put a £250,000 price tag on the old station yard site and gave Stalham first refusal. They had until September 15 to make their decision.
The council had its own, undisclosed valuation of the site carried out, which was described as “broadly in agreement” with NCC’s asking price.
Councillors voted to borrow money from the Public Works Loans Board, repayable over five years, to purchase the land.
The town council will now have to increase its precept to recover the cash from local council-tax payers and the rise will see an increase of £49 per annum for properties in Band D.
Mr Woolsey said that the decision would be “too costly” and would impact on residents’ wallets.
“Shouldn’t they decide what they do with the extra money?” He said.
“Treating the contaminated land will also be costly.”
There were however concerns that if a developer snapped up the land, which has remained undeveloped for at least 15 years, the site could be used for high-density housing.
North Norfolk District Council currently leases part of the site as a public car park.
Town councillor Elizabeth Jackson echoed Mr Woolsey’s concerns.
She said: “I think the site should be ours by right not by purchase - we should not pay one penny for it. Most people want the land for Stalham town but if not for free then not at all.”
Mrs Jackson said she had talked to many groups in the town who had thought of ideas of how the land could be used including creating a free car park, landscaping the area, building a swimming pool, creating a woodland area or a market place.
But she believed that without an action plan, proposed cost of developing the land and a feasibility study, then buying the land for future projects would be “an uphill struggle”.
She added: “I would like to see an open space put in place there but at what cost? Isn’t borrowing money what has got the country into the mess it’s in in the first place?”
Other councillors were more positive however and believed that gaining the land was vital to the future of the town.
District and town councillor Pauline Grove-Jones said: “It will be a rise in the precept but if we don’t buy the land then what happens to it? It goes out to tender to the developers.
“This is one piece of land that Stalham could keep control of. If we purchase the land we could finally decide what we want to do with it but if we don’t, we can’t decide who we want to sell it to if we don’t develop it.
“We have a chance here to make an impression on the community and ask them their opinion.”
A total of 1,600 Stalham households received questionnaires asking for their views earlier this year but only a dozen residents returned them.
The council hoped to involve more of the community in future plans.