Call for jobs to be heart of Coltishall future as key questions asked

Jobs should be at the heart of finding a fresh future for the axed RAF Coltishall airbase, a government minister will be told today.

But MP Norman Lamb will also be seeking assurances that local people are consulted as efforts are made to find a new buyer after the original plan to make it a centre for 'recycling' ageing airliners fell through.

Mr Lamb is due to talk to justice minister Crispin Blunt this afternoon to seek answers to key questions regarding the future of the site, as well as stressing the importance that any upcoming schemes provide a boost to the area's economy.

There was wide spread disappointment after it was announced TAG Aviation's bid to turn the base into a hi-tech aircraft decommissioning business had been withdrawn.

TAG's plans were welcomed as a hugely positive step for the economy as it would have created nearly 400 full-time jobs and have a 'minimal impact' on the area by revitalising its runway and historical buildings. However, the proposals were dropped due to funding changes.

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The Ministry of Justice, which bought the site after it closed in 2006 and replaced some of the hundreds of jobs that were lost by building HMP Bure, has said it is in talks with a previous bidder.

But fears are now growing amongst campaigners as to how long it will be left in limbo and the potential for future plans to be 'sprung' on them as Mr Lamb seeks answers to five key questions. These are:

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* The time scale of future plans

* The focus the MoJ will give to jobs and the local economy in the decisions its takes

* How the community will be involved, if residents will be able to have a say and making sure their views are respected

* How future plans will be compatible with the area

* How many bidders the MoJ is in talks with

Speaking to the EDP yesterday, Mr Lamb said: 'I will be stressing to him the fact that I feel it's important the department has in mind the need to help the local economy and jobs in particular. We're living through very difficult times at the moment and we always need to focus on how we can support the economy whilst recognising that we must not destroy what makes Norfolk a very beautiful county.

'I want there to be engagement with the community. When there are bids being made, there are certain confidentiality arrangements that have to be respected but the more the community can be involved and respected and listened to, the better,' he added.

Glyn Williams, chairman of Coltishall Eco Town Action Group, which was set up initially to oppose previous plans to build environmentally friendly homes on the site, said worries about potential schemes were beginning to resurface among campaigners, who were equally concerned they get a say in Coltishall's future.

He said: 'I hope they can move quickly, but that should not be at the cost of not consulting and including local people properly. We don't want something sprung on us.'

James Carswell, Norfolk County councillor for Coltishall, added: 'I think we need to put pressure on the MoJ to make sure they listen to what the community's needs are, but that we're actively positive and work to make sure a company feels welcome and can invest in the Norfolk economy.'

North Norfolk District Council has, meanwhile, said it knew who the MoJ was in talks with, but would not reveal any details about the potential buyer because of 'commercially sensitivities'.

Scottow ward member Trevor Ivory did admit the secret bidder had been given until the end of September to make a decision.

He said: 'The MoJ has gone back to at least one of the other bidders with a view to seeing whether there was a deal that could be done. My understanding is that they have given that bidder until the end of this month to come back with a yes or no.'

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