Inspector hears debate over Billingford ‘country park’

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Basil Todd, owner of Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

An agricultural building, which was controversially erected at a mid-Norfolk beauty spot, was labelled a 'Trojan horse' by objectors at an appeal hearing where a government inspector began his investigation into whether the district council should enforce its removal.

Businessman Basil Todd, who owns 140 acres of land at Billingford Lakes, erected the building at the former quarry in November 2012 to store agricultural machinery and materials for a proposed fish farm, but only had planning consent for a structure half the size.

Its construction and subsequent planning applications for a visitor centre and camping on the site has led residents of neighbouring villages to suspect Mr Todd of building it to serve leisure and tourism opportunities on the site and not for any agricultural uses as he had suggested.

Bill Borrett, Breckland councillor for Billingford, said: 'It was the opinion of the council that this was a Trojan horse to support (Mr Todd's) leisure business. The land has not been used for agriculture since it was erected and there is nothing to suggest there will be agriculture in the future. It is being used for tourism.'

John Labouchere from North Elmham said: 'This is a valley of great beauty and the longest and best river we have in Norfolk. This is not the right place for a development of any sort.'

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The hearing, led by planning inspector Keri Williams, was brought after Mr Todd appealed against Breckland's decision to refuse planning permission for the structure and subsequent enforcement notice.

The hearing also heard his appeal against the council's decision to refuse plans for a visitor centre and camping pods. He has since submitted a new application to convert the agricultural building into the visitor centre, which has yet to be determined.

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At the hearing opponents to the visitor centre plans said it was an 'alien' structure which was visually intrusive and would set a precedent for other development in the Wensum Valley. They also raised concerns about noise, light pollution, highway safety and impact on wildlife and habitats.

Roger Thorneley of Hoe and Worthing parish meeting said there were already other camping sites locally and that this plan was not 'sustainable'. He said: 'I am very concerned about Mr Todd's long term plans.'

Eric Kirk, facilities manager for Mr Todd, said there was a 'misconception' about the amount of traffic it would bring to the area. 'It will be nothing like the lorries that used to frequent the site in its construction and farming days,' he said. 'You need to look at the bigger picture - it is not intented to destroy the ambience but to let others enjoy it and protect it. The site was originally bought for agriculture and fisheries but after Mr Todd tidied it up he decided it was more suitable for a small country park.'

Mr Todd said there was now '100 times' more wildlife on the site than when he bought it, he had planted 5000 trees and it was now flourishing.

Mr Williams also made a site visit and will publish his decision in the next few weeks.

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