A boost to Breckland tourism or a ‘holiday camp in a sensitive location’? Billingford Lakes scheme set for approval by planners

Billingford Lakes. Picture: Ian Burt

Billingford Lakes. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

A controversial visitor centre at a lakeside beauty spot could finally become a reality after years of failed attempts to get it passed by planners.

A hybrid application for a visitor centre, campsite, outdoor recreation centre and eight holiday lodges at Billingford Lakes, near North Elmham, goes before Breckland Council's planning committee on Monday recommended for approval.

The applicant is Wensum Valley Hotel, Golf and Country Club in Taverham, run by the family of the late Basil Todd, a well-known entrepreneur who bought the Billingford site as a disused gravel pit in 2010 but was unable to realise his visitor centre vision before his death in 2015.

The report going before planners states that the visitor centre could comprise a reception, office, display areas, cafe, toilets and shower facilities, kitchen and storage areas. It would be timber boarded with olive green metal roof cladding and with a maximum height of 5.29m.

There would be 36 car parking spaces, two coach parking spaces and cycle parking.

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The outdoor recreation facility would include toilet, shower and laundry facilities.

There is also a retrospective consent application for soil bund mounds, viewing hides and anglers' huts, landscape screening and two electricity sub-stations.

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The applicant says it will raise the profile of Dereham and Breckland as a holiday destination and provide employment and economic benefits.

While previous applications on the site brought with it several objections from the surrounding parishes there have once again been concerns raised, particularly on increased noise, light and traffic.

The report says Hoe and Worthing Parish Meeting 'strongly objects to the proposal in its entirety,' adding, 'the proposed development is wholly inappropriate and undesirable in a particularly sensitive location which should enjoy a high degree of protection.'

The Environment Agency also objects because of the flood risk but Historic England has said that 'if reasonable safeguards are put in place we would not object to the application on heritage grounds'.

The report also states: 'It is not considered that the proposals will lead to likely significant effects on the River Wensum SAC (Special Area of Conservation).'

Comments from the public were split 19 in support and 44 objecting.

Supporters say it will provide employment and business opportunities, will improve the ecology, will provide educational and conservation benefits and will be an asset to the area.

Objections range from dangers to children around the lakes, noise, light and traffic pollution, harmful visual impact, harm to ecosystem of Wensum Valley, and is a 'holiday camp in a sensitive location'.

But the report, written by Breckland case officer Simon Ward, says in their assessment the proposals will 'result in considerable benefits in ecological and bio-diversity terms through the improvement of the former agricultural habitats, enhancement of existing habitats and through the management of access throughout the site and recreation uses'.

Its benefits would outweigh any conflicts, it concludes, and justifies the grant of planning permission.

* What do you think? Email kathryn.cross@archant.co.uk.

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