Eco-community vision for RAF Coltishall

RICHARD BATSON A £9 billion eco-community combining homes, jobs, an electric bus link and a brand new broad is being flagged up as the way to redevelop a disused Norfolk airbase.


A £9 billion eco-community combining homes, jobs, an electric bus link and a brand new broad is being flagged up as the way to redevelop a disused Norfolk airbase.

The bold vision for RAF Coltishall would make it one of a handful of carbon-neutral settlements being encouraged by prime minister Gordon Brown.

It could provide up to 10,000 homes and 2,000 jobs as well as a range of education, training and leisure facilities in a self-contained sustainable community.

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The imaginative scheme, by a local developer with international funding, follows earlier overtures by the UEA-based CRed carbon reduction campaign suggesting Coltishall as a possible location for one of the pioneering communities aimed at providing more than 100,000 eco-friendly homes and settlements across the nation.

Last night CRed called on officials and planners to be brave and look at ways of encouraging such a project which could see Norfolk leading the way with eco-friendly development.

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Plans show the old runway, which used to roar with the sounds of warplanes, turned into long tranquil island, speckled with luxury waterside homes, set amid a lake which also contains a wind farm, a wetlands centre, nature boardwalks and a boatyard.

To meet worries about Coltishall's poor transport links, the ambitious scheme also includes calls for a spur road off the planned Norwich northern bypass, and an eco-friendly electric bus route to the city.

And the former Battle of Britain base's history is captured by retaining the old control tower and setting up a museum of station memorabilia named after its most famous flyer, the fighter ace Douglas Bader.

It is the brainchild of Norfolk-born developer Richard Davies who insists the 15-year Coltishall project is “not a pipe dream,” adding: “We can make this happen but need the political will through the support of politicians and local councils.”

Mr Davies has financial backing from English and international banks and has used nationally-known planners Barton Willmore, brought together in a new company called Coltishall Group plc.

They want to buy the whole 750-acre site from the government to develop it in a strategic way, rather than have it sold off and fragmented.

But they could only do so if it part of it was not used as an immigration centre by the Home Office, which is still months away from making a decision.

Mr Davies's plans fit the eco-settlement aspirations of the government and the scheme will be sent to the government in time for an end of October deadline for eco-settlement schemes.

Eco-communities, dubbed Brown Towns, need to have 5,000-20,000 homes, a zero carbon output, 30-50pc affordable housing, a good range of facilities and one exemplary area of environmental sustainability.

Mr Davies said it was a “one off chance” to provide the new and affordable homes needed to meet local demand, taking development pressure off Norwich and local towns and villages.

CRed spokesman Dr Bruce Tofield said: “It is a tremendous chance to create a development which would enable Norfolk to be seen to be leading the way instead of lagging behind. It won't be easy - but it can be done.”

The base straddles the patches of MPs Norman Lamb and Keith Simpson who gave a guarded welcome to the idea and stressed local communities needed to be consulted.

North Norfolk Lib Dem Mr Lamb said he had suggested a similar idea at the redundant RAF base at West Raynham but it failed.

He said: “While I cannot promote any specific private bid, serious consideration should be given to this concept, which potentially could relieve pressure on landscape elsewhere in the county.”

Mid Norfolk Tory Keith Simpson said any ideas and initiatives to develop the base should be considered, but putting such a scheme in an isolated area of countryside could well produce “teeth sucking” from some local communities.

David Hayman, co-ordinator of the RAF Coltishall task force trying to find a new future for the base, said: “We want to see a benefit to the economy as soon as possible. There are people interested in various parts of the base, but it needs scale and vision, along with investment in the infrastructure to make it work.”

t The plan would include: A new urban village with park; low density island housing; business and technology park; start-up business premises; traditional crafts training centre; primary school and nursery; museum; keeping the wartime control tower and blast walls; community centre; wind turbines, solar power and biomass heat and power plant; market square; sports pavilion; GP surgery; allotments and market garden; a new broad covering 40pc of the site; wetlands centre; waterfront hotel and eco spa; reedbeds to clean waste water for recycling; boatyard.

t Bids for the expressions of interest in five “Brown Towns” must be in by the end of October, with the winners likely to be announced in the New Year.

The communities must provide 5,000 to 20,000 homes, be on redeveloped brownfield sites, and be zero carbon-rated, with locally-generated green energy, and new eco-friendly road and rail links.

The project is now under the wing of housing minister Yvette Cooper. A spokeswoman for the department of communities and local government said submissions would be looked at during November and December in conjunction with other agencies looking at environmental and transport elements.

Successful schemes would be get funding from April next year, but the levels of spending were yet to be decided, during the government's autumn spending review.

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