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Final plea to save Second World War watchtower from demolition

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:29 08 April 2019

The Lotus manufacturing site and test track at Hethel. Picture: Lotus

The Lotus manufacturing site and test track at Hethel. Picture: Lotus

Archant

For some it acts as a memorial of the hundreds of lives lost during the Second World War, but for others it is a building which has reached its life span.

Wymondham Hethel ground crew. Picture: Archant LibraryWymondham Hethel ground crew. Picture: Archant Library

A last-ditch plea has been made to save the control tower at the former RAF Hethel airfield which is set to be demolished.

Plans had originally been lodged by site owner Lotus Cars to re-clad the watchtower building and add a roof terrace as part of its refurbishment for the driving academy, which was approved by South Norfolk Council in November 2018.

But further investigation by Lotus Cars, which had been using the watchtower for track training days until last year, found the structural condition of the building to be significantly worse than expected.

This has led Lotus Cars to come to the decision to demolish the building to create a new club house, as it was deemed more economically viable than repairing the damage.

Colin Rudd, chairman of Bracon Ash and Hethel Parish Council. Picture: Sonya DuncanColin Rudd, chairman of Bracon Ash and Hethel Parish Council. Picture: Sonya Duncan

A Lotus Cars spokesman said there is no alternative than to demolish the building as it was considered to be “unsafe”.

He added: “Recognising the club house’s place in the history of Hethel, a suitable tribute will be incorporated into the landscaping of this area site once the development works are completed.”

But chairman of Bracon Ash and Hethel Parish Council Colin Rudd has asked the car factory to halt plans for demolition until another consultation has taken place to look at possible ways to save the building. 
“Although I agree it’s not the most attractive building I think it’s a disgrace it’s being demolished,” he said. 
“It’s a memorial of those 600 men who never came back, it’s our moral duty to at least save it.
“How can you talk about economics with such a significant part of our history?”

A report by MLM Consulting Engineers, which had inspected the building, states that the existing first floor slab, which is believed to have been built in 1941 with poor quality concrete, was in poor condition and showed signs of severe corrosion.

The former RAF Hethel airfield is home to Lotus Cars. Picture: Norwich Theatre RoyalThe former RAF Hethel airfield is home to Lotus Cars. Picture: Norwich Theatre Royal

The report states: “Our view is that the first floor slab is life expired.”
It continued: “Even after significant repairs, the structure is likely to have a limited useful and safe life before significant further works are likely to be required.”

No date has been set on when the demolition is to take place.

RAF Hethel

Originally a stretch of farmland, the airfield was first developed in 1942 to be used by the US Army Air Force as a bomber squadron base - Station 114 - from which to launch attacks across Europe during the Second World War.

The base was assigned to the 320th Bombardment Group before construction had been completed in September 1942. The 310th and 389th Bombardment Groups were also posted on the site.

Having lost 107 aircraft during its campaign, the 389th flew its last combat mission on April 25 1945, returning to the USA on May 30.

Of the 321 missions in which RAF Hethel personnel were deployed to around 588 men went missing or were killed in action.

After the end of the war in Europe and the departure of the Americans, the airfield was assigned to RAF Fighter Command and saw further service before its closure in 1948.



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