Enterprise park at former RAF Coltishall base to be leased for £276,000 a year
- Credit: Mike Page
An historic air base which was bought by Norfolk County Council for £4m is to be leased out - to a company which was set up by County Hall.
The county council bought the former RAF Coltishall base in 2013 and turned it into Scottow Enterprise Park - with units for businesses and plans to build housing on part of the site.
However, at a meeting of the Conservative-controlled county council cabinet on Monday, it was agreed that the council would lease the base to Hethel Innovation Ltd, which was created by the council as its economic development company.
Hethel Innovation Ltd has been managing the 600-acre site on the council's behalf since 2015, but will now take on the lease from the county council - in return for £276,999 each year for the next seven years.
Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for growing the economy, said the move would build further on the success of the park, which is at 95pc occupancy.
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However, when the council bought the site from the Ministry of Justice, it came with covenants attached, which means no leases longer than seven years can be granted to tenants.
And Liberal Democrat county councillor John Timewell said: "For Hethel Innovation to be set free to enable it to achieve substantial economic gains for Norfolk, the county council needs to renegotiate the terms of the agreement to make it more favourable than the ones the Conservatives agreed.
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"Instead, they have chosen a status quo option which might result in very limited expansion. The losers are the people of Norfolk as the opportunity to drive forward an ambitious economic development plan to deliver significant economic outcomes across the county will be lost."
Mr Plant said: "We have discussed removal of the covenants, however the MoJ, with their own duty to consider public finances, would seek a consideration for their removal. Given the unique nature of the site and the low number of organisations in a position to run it as an enterprise park, along with the success of Scottow operating under the existing conditions - including the profits of Hethel Innovation Ltd being retained and reinvested in Norfolk - we currently consider this a low priority."
Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group, raised concerns over potential secrecy around decisions once the site is leased.
He said: "Arms length wholly owned companies can be very useful, but they also provide a convenient curtain of commercial confidentiality that doesn't apply in the same way if it were directly managed. If this arrangement is run in an open, transparent and inclusive way that lines up with the policies of the council it could be good. If it goes off and does it's own thing, making decisions behind closed doors and being overseen by a small cabal of politicians from one party, then that would be a further extension of the unacceptable way Norfolk is being run."
But Mr Plant said all decisions over Scottow had been transparent and the council would still have oversight.
The solar farm at the base is excluded from the lease.