Campaigners 'close to winning site battle'

Campaigners in Reepham were celebrating yesterday after a council leader admitted it would face severe difficulty in creating a travellers' camp on its outskirts.

Campaigners in Reepham were celebrating yesterday after a council leader admitted it would face severe difficulty in creating a travellers' camp on its outskirts.

Simon Woodbridge, leader of Broadland District Council, yesterday confirmed there were major obstacles to the former Whitwell Station site being turned into a camp.

It follows a prolonged campaign to block the plans by residents after it emerged that Broadland had used Whitwell Station as a model when bidding for government money to set up future travellers' sites.

The site borders Marriott's Way, a popular footpath and cycleway and major tourist attraction.

Opponents feared a camp would scar the area's natural beauty and harm the neighbouring Whitwell Hall Country Centre, with more than 1,000 people signing a petition against it.

Mr Woodbridge said it would be very difficult to consider the former station as a potential site before Norfolk Property Services (NPS) closed bids on November 6.

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"We have reached a point where we can recognise it is clearly difficult to include it in the assessment. It is unfortunate that NPS put the site for sale in advance of us being able understand whether it is suitable or not," he said.

"It is also not clear whether the land would be suitable for a travellers' site. In planning terms, the site is primarily designated as commercial and residential in terms of priority of land use."

He said the council was yet to enter a bid for the site.

Hugh Ivins, spokesman for opposition to the camp in the town, said he believed they were close to winning their battle.

"We are extremely pleased to hear the statement made by the leader of Broadland District Council," he said.

"It has been a long and effective campaign involving local support from Reepham and the surrounding area.

"We look forward to the leader's statement being formally confirmed by the council at the earliest opportunity."

Broadland District Council is currently consulting with town and parish councils on the criteria it will use to choose a suitable travellers' site and will not draw up a shortlist until this has been agreed.

Reepham Town Council has looked into leading a community bid to buy the site and have suggested schemes such as a youth hostel.

The 7.78-acre Norfolk County Council-owned plot has been put on the market for £250,000.