Vision for Coltishall is revealed
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A vision for the future of the former RAF Coltishall base has been unveiled – and the revamp could include a solar farm, a campsite, the recreation of a lost village or even a return for flying at the historic site.
Norfolk County Council bought the 600-acre site for £4m – a move seen as controversial by some – in January and has been drawing up a masterplan for what could happen at the base.
The council, which is adamant that breathing new life into the base will create hundreds of jobs and generate revenue for the authority, had previously hinted at what the future had in store.
The council had already indicated it would like to see much of the base leased for farming, with some housing and the creation of business units.
And the council had said it wanted to create a heritage trail, telling the story of the former Battle of Britain base which became a strategic Cold War site before it closed six years ago with the loss of 650 jobs.
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Now, following talks with local people and organisations, a 'draft development vision' for the base has been revealed – and suggestions from the public have led to a few surprises in the new-look blueprint.
Described as 'optional proposals', among them was the suggestion that the settlement of Batley Green, Scottow – lost when the RAF moved onto the land – could be rebuilt.
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And, with the council saying that it did not plan to rip up the main runway, it leaves the door open for other suggestions such as a private flying club or so-called aero homes – housing accessible by aircraft to be built.
Other proposals could see bunkers at the former fuel and missile dump area transformed into a 'quirky' holiday park, or a camping and caravan park created.
Last night, the plans were unveiled to the Community Liaison Reference Group, made up of parish councils and other organisations.
But public consultation has also been launched and the council wants people to have their say and make further suggestions by September.
George Nobbs, Norfolk County Council leader and cabinet member for economic development, said: 'This is one of the most exciting development projects that the county council has ever taken on.
'RAF Coltishall, as it used to be known, is held in great affection by those who served there, by local residents and by the people of Norfolk as a whole.
'That's why I and my colleagues are determined to treat the site with the utmost respect.
'This is not a collection of industrial units or a site for intensive development. Our aim is to make it a living breathing part of the local community that everyone involved can be very proud of. RAF Coltishall deserves no less.'
The council's decision to buy the base from the Ministry of Justice has attracted criticism, with question marks over whether the authority should be spending such an amount at a time when it is having to make cuts and savings.
Concerns have been expressed in some quarters over the poor quality access to the site and whether it will attract the businesses the council hopes.
But councillors and offices insist it will be money well spent, with businesses occupying former buildings, including hangars, generating revenue for the council.
Mr Nobbs said: 'We have previously published a high-level business case that shows we can expect to recover our investment within five years and generate an ongoing income stream to support council services in the future.
'This is in addition to the wider benefits to the local community and wider Norfolk economy.'
The council entered the fray to buy the base after rival bidder Bruce Giddy, managing director of the Hans House Group of Companies, failed with a £4.1m for the base.
He wanted to install a 250-acre solar farm, to create a heritage centre and aviation museum and to offer a home to engineering and aircraft-building firms.
There have been rumours that the Hans House Group recently returned with an offer to buy the base from the council, but a spokesman for the council insisted there was no such offer on the table.
The council has also been quick to scotch speculation over Norwich International airport being relocated to Coltishall, stressing 'commercial aviation will not feature in its future plans'.
The main runway will also not be removed, contrary to previous suggestions.
But proposed plans to extract some aggregate for 'highways projects' would be mainly from the Cold War runway extensions.
The council has also revealed that, to improve access, it intends to make Lamas Road an access only HGV restriction through Badersfield and to have a similar access weight restriction on The Fairstead.
The council is also looking to open up Piggery Lane on the site to link it to community woodland trails and possibly the road network beyond as well as moving the main entrance to the base slightly to the east.
Commercial property agents and other representatives were today due to tour the site – by invitation only.
Tom Garrod, Conservative county councillor for Wroxham, said he hoped the proposals would bring an end to the 'scaremongering' over what might happen to the base.
He said: 'This is going to be a really exciting place to work and I am especially pleased about the optional proposals.
'It shows how the county council consults on things and if we get a positive reaction we can bring revenue into Norfolk.'