Broad is a dream fulfilled’

JON WELCH It was once a sand and gravel quarry but now it is a countryside destination visited by thousands of people every year. The Great Broad at Whitlingham Country Park, near Norwich, was handed over officially to a charitable trust by quarrying company Lafarge Aggregates on Friday.

JON WELCH

It was once a sand and gravel quarry but now it is a countryside destination visited by thousands of people every year.

The Great Broad at Whitlingham Country Park, near Norwich, was handed over officially to a charitable trust by quarrying company Lafarge Aggregates on Friday.

Sir Timothy Colman, who had the original idea to turn the area into a country park, accepted the broad on behalf of the Whitlingham Charitable Trust, describing it as a “dream fulfilled”.

Sir Timothy, who lives nearby, told guests at a reception marking the occasion that he had first thought about creating the park in the 1970s while serving with the Countryside Commission.

“I've known the area since I was a small boy: my grandfather lived in the house at the top of the hill,” he said.

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“It was on a boat travelling from Reedham to Norwich that we sailed past and I described my thoughts and ambitions to see this whole area be used on a lasting basis for quiet enjoyment by members of the public.”

Planning permission for quarrying on the site was granted in 1989 on the condition that it was properly restored and landscaped afterwards.

Preliminary work started in 1990, and the processing plant was commissioned the following year. It has produced 200,000 tonnes of high-quality aggregates each year to the local construction industry, including contracts for the Norwich southern bypass, Castle Mall and Norwich's Millennium Library.

The first phase of the restoration project, the 10 acre Little Broad, was completed and handed over to the trust in 1997. It now provides a training facility for windsurfing, dinghy sailing and scuba diving.

The Great Broad is now fully restored and can accommodate a 1,500 metre rowing course and facilities for other water sports, including canoeing, windsurfing and sailing.

The southern shore has full public access, with car parks, a cycle track and picnic areas.

The northern shore provides sheltered areas of shallows, islands and scrapes for the benefit of wildlife.

Also on the 280 care site are the Whitlingham Outdoor Education Centre, run by the county council, and the Whitlingham Visitors' Centre, which was officially opened last spring.

Sand and gravel are still being extracted from the final phase of the site, at Thorpe Marsh. When it is complete it will be turned into a wildlife reserve.

Sir Timothy said his ideas had been inspired by other country parks he had visited with the Countryside Commission. “It has turned out even better than I had dared to hope and I think it's got wonderful potential for people to enjoy,” he said.

“As a child I spent quite a lot of time here. I visit quite often and thoroughly enjoy it.”

A watercolour painting commissioned in memory of Mark Lintell, the landscape artist who originally conceived plans for the park, was presented to the trust and will now hang in the visitors' centre.

Stuart Wykes, director of mineral resources for Lafarge, said: “It's a very valuable project because it demonstrates how, with all the interested parties, organisations and stakeholders, we have achieved something which is incredibly special. It's something the company can be very proud of.”