Angry reaction to Norfolk beauty spot plan

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Villagers living near a Norfolk beauty spot have reacted angrily to the landowner's latest plans for a visitor centre, claiming it is blocking their right to access the land freely.

Businessman Basil Todd, who owns Billingford Lakes, near Dereham, wants to convert an existing agricultural building at the former quarry into a display area, cafe, kitchen and toilet facilities. He also wants to install 10 camping pods and seven Scandinavian style timber lodges.

But despite the landowner offering what he sees as a compromise to a previously-refused application, parish officers accuse him of preventing local people from enjoying the land, and sacrificing wildlife in a bid to make the site a money-making scheme – which Mr Todd refutes.

Mike Davies, chairman of Billingford Parish Council, said the new plan differed little from a scheme which had already been rejected by planners.

He added: 'This land known as Billingford common has always had access in living memory and has been a special piece of open countryside with views of the Wensum Valley. The areas which had been extracted (by aggregates supplier Cemex) were very well landscaped by the company 10-15 years ago, producing several conservation lakes and copses which teemed with wildlife. All this time there was a bridleway which the public could use freely.

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'A complete blockage has been made by the present owner. In addition huge swathes were cut through much of the landscaped area removing habitats and, according to local birdwatchers, loss of half of the wildlife.

'The development would detract from the environmental, archaeological and recreational use of the site while indicating no economic sustainability.'

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Sue Bulbrook, from Billingford, wrote to complain that the agricultural building 'was only ever allowed in connection with agricultural use and that has never happened'. She added: 'Mr Todd has driven out most of the wildlife that used to be there and now he wants to charge people to use the site. He has no concern at all for conservation - the only thing he is concerned about is making money.'

Bird-watcher Dave Appleton from Bawdeswell said he had noticed a 'sharp decline' in variety and quantity of wildlife in neighbouring habitats, which he blamed on the 'degradation and disturbance' of the land at Billingford.

Swanton Morley parish council, which has previously objected to the plans, said it will meet on March 10 to discuss its latest response.

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