Neighbours back campaign to keep Lotus in Norfolk

Like any noisy neighbour, the relationship between Lotus and local residents in nearby Hethel and Bracon Ash has, at times, been strained.

Concerns about increased traffic movements from the Potash Lane site and engine noise from the test track have been raised over the years, not to mention a long-running planning battle over proposals for three large wind turbines at the Group Lotus headquarters.

However, despite recent disagreements, local people are fully in support of the campaign to keep the sports-car manufacturer in Norfolk, amid concerns over the future ownership of the firm.

'We want Lotus to stay.' That was the message from villagers as they speculated over the future of Lotus Cars, which has been based at Hethel, near Wymondham, since 1966.

Local residents can recall previous occasions over the years when the future of Lotus was questioned as a result of new owners and restructures. The latest speculation surrounds DRB-Hicom, the new Malaysian owners of Lotus parent company Proton, and rumours that it is looking to sell the Norfolk-based firm to Chinese investors.

But Colin Rudd, chairman of Bracon Ash and Hethel Parish Council, said he hoped that their neighbours will stay and retain the more than 1,000 jobs at the former second world war airfield. 'It would be a disaster for our area if Lotus was to go. It has always had a chequered history, but we feel quite confident that they will stay,' he said.

'Although we have had different points of view in the past, we have never had a bad relationship with Lotus. We may have agreed to disagree, but we have always been able to discuss our problems.

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'As a council, we recognise the huge importance of Lotus to the local economy, and they are there and hopefully they will be there to stay.'

However, local residents and bosses at Lotus HQ have not always seen eye to eye – particularly when plans for three 120m-high wind turbines on the site were unveiled more than five years ago to power its factory on renewable energy.

The proposals were approved by a South Norfolk Council planning committee, but were quashed two years ago by Court of Appeal judges because the district council failed to consult English Heritage on the impact of the Ecotricity turbines upon nearby listed buildings.

Mr Rudd said that Lotus, in general, were good neighbours and prepared to talk and listen to local residents.

Peter Leigh, chairman of Mulbarton Parish Council, added that the ups and downs of Lotus Cars over the years had acted as a 'barometer' for the area.

'If it [Lotus] is doing well, the price of houses goes up, and when there is a problem, the price of houses comes down,' he said.

'I know about a dozen people who work for Lotus in Mulbarton and the uncertainty is unsettling.

'If Lotus pulled the plug, it would have a major impact on the population of Mulbarton and the local economy. We do not want them to go and everyone wants them to stay.'

He added that the company also took part in community events like an annual football competition in Mulbarton.

The small parishes of Hethel and Bracon Ash have a population of only about 500, but Mr Rudd said Lotus would be a big loss to the area if it did move overseas.

Local district councillor Nigel Legg said that Lotus had been a lot more open with the community over the last 18 months to resolve noise issues. He added: 'What no one has mentioned so far is the local suppliers who provide hotel accommodation, body parts and that sort of thing. If Lotus stop making cars, the suppliers will not have any work.'

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