‘We are trying very hard to blend in’ – Farm machinery firm reveals designs for controversial planned HQ in Swainsthorpe
- Credit: Ben Burgess
A farm machinery firm has revealed its plans for a multi-million pound new rural headquarters – but it faces angry opposition from villagers over the 'industrialisation' of the Norfolk countryside.
Ben Burgess, which has outgrown its current premises at Trowse, has submitted an application to South Norfolk Council to build on 11.5 hectares of land west of the A140 in Swainsthorpe, following a 10-year search to find a new base.
If approved, the site, including two buildings totalling 96,520 square feet and employing around 250 people, would act as a service centre for the company's customers in south Norfolk and a head office and training centre for the group, which also has depots in Beeston and Aylsham.
Concerns about the proposals have been growing in Swainsthorpe following a public consultation in July 2018, which also sparked the launch of an opposition campaign group.
But managing director Ben Turner said the layout was designed to mitigate the impact on the landscape, the village and its historic church, with the main building placed to the rear of the site, in an area levelled to 3.5m below the village, while a machinery storage area would be located in a 4.5m depression.
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'This is the ninth site we have put forward in the last 10 years, and it is the best one,' he said. 'We are working very hard to make it a building that fits in with the countryside.
'It is a two-storey building, so we can never hide ourselves completely. But we have recessed the building 3.5m into the ground to make use of the topography to try and make the building shrink.
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'We are right at the back of the site, so to anyone driving along the A140 it will be in the distance. The machinery storage is 4.5m below the level of our buildings, and those are 3.5m below the height of the village.
'We are trying very hard to blend in – 60pc of the site will end up being green parkland with grass and trees.'
Mr Turner said the proposals include educational and training areas with the goal of creating 'an inspirational place to work'.
The company says the frontage of the main building will be broken up into distinct sections and utilise weathering steel cladding to 'help merge the connection between the landscape and the building'.
Village campaigners said a petition calling on South Norfolk Council to reject planning permission for this 'highly unsuitable development' has been signed by more 95pc of the households in Swainsthorpe.
A website headed 'Saving Swainsthorpe from Industrialisation' has been launched, which says: 'We do not intend to give up this challenge to our environment easily and we will seek the support of every agency and organisation to scrutinise this proposal and we will continue to campaign against this highly unsuitable development.'
The campaign sets out concerns including green fields taken over by 'irreversible development', light and air pollution, the loss of countryside and 'traffic chaos' on the often-congested A140.
'Access and exit to this proposed site from the A140 is extremely dangerous even without the heavy industrial plant and equipment and sits on a bend with limited vision,' it says.
Ben Burgess says it intends the site to be served by an upgraded access onto the A140, offering two interchangeable options including a new 'ghost island', or three-arm roundabout.
Swainsthorpe Parish Council chairman Glynis Frost said the parish could not take a formal position until the plans have been analysed and discussed at a public meeting – but she called for an extension to the six-week period given to digest the complex raft of planning documents.