Community park plans near reality

The 10-year transformation of a Norwich community could soon achieve another major milestone as plans for a state-of-the-art sports centre and community park near reality.

The 10-year transformation of a Norwich community could soon achieve another major milestone as plans for a state-of-the-art sports centre and community park near reality.

The North Earlham Larkman Marlpit (NELM) Development Trust Ltd has been working for the past decade to transform the 40-acre former Bowthorpe High School site, in Irstead Road

The school closed in the 1980s, but executives at NELM have been busy trying to turn it from a neglected eyesore into a thriving centre boasting homes, sports facilities, and business opportunities.

Homes and an employment area have already been completed, going a long way to regenerate the historically deprived area.

Now NELM bosses are ready with major plans for the site, which would see the creation of the Bowthorpe Community Park, to include sports pitches, a floodlit games area, adventure play area, skateboard park, under- fives play area, as well as a revamped community building, to be called the Gurney Centre.

This week members of Norwich City Council, the accountable body for NELM, will be asked to endorse the latest plans.

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It is then expected this will enable a £4m grant to be released by the New Deal for Communities (NDC) to pay for the ambitious scheme.

Bosses said yesterday they hoped to start work on the scheme as early as January next year.

Freda Sheehy, chairman of the NELM board, said: "It will be a fabulous facility for the area and we're hoping the council will support it as an initiative that can add to the whole city.

"It has been a long time in the planning but we are delighted that it appears to be finally coming to fruition."

The 20-acre site will also include more play facilities, another games court, a synthetic pitch, formal gardens, additional lighting and pathways, litter bins, and seats.

Meanwhile, the Gurney Centre would include a multi-purpose hall, community café, fitness room, changing accommodation and meeting rooms.

Mrs Sheehy added: "The possibilities for this project are limitless. We want this building to be used for as many hours as it is open - during the day for as many different activities.

"The whole idea of it is to improve people's health and well-being. Football teams from outside can come and use it. When I talk to people about what could happen I haven't heard anyone say they wouldn't use it."

The government awarded £35.2m to the NELM area of Norwich through the NDC programme to regenerate the area over a 10 year period.

A programme of regeneration activity has been under way since the start of the programme in 2000, and in 2004 10 acres of the site was sold to Persimmon Homes Ltd for new homes. However, the latest project is viewed as the key development in the NELM programme, which is due to end by 2010.

Adrian Holmes, Norwich City councillor for Wensum ward, where the development is proposed, said yesterday: "They've made a good case so hopefully it will unlock the funding they need.

"It will be a vital resource for the community and I think it's essential that the community facilities are built as quickly as possible."

Eight acres of the former Bowthorpe School site has been allocated for employment development to provide local jobs and training opportunities.

The Henderson Business Centre and five small industrial workshops were completed in July 2006, wihile 22 enterprises currently occupy the premises, providing employment for 75 people.

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