New bid to create visitor centre at Billingford Lakes

Basil Todd at Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher.

Basil Todd at Billingford Lakes. Picture; Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

A businessman's dream to provide a visitor centre at a mid-Norfolk beauty spot has been resurrected by his daughter.

In the five years that Basil Todd owned Billingford Lakes, near North Elmham, he said he just wanted to provide somewhere for people to enjoy the wildlife on the 140-acre former gravel extraction site.

But Mr Todd, who lived at Welborne, died last year without seeing his dream become a reality after numerous planning applications and appeals to build a visitor centre and camping facilities for scouts and guides failed due to local opposition amid concerns about planning breaches and interference with the course of the River Wensum.

Now his daughter Bridgette Hall, who has taken on the running of many of his business interests including the Wensum Valley Hotel and Country Club at Taverham, has submitted a fresh bid for the tourist facility with emphasis on redressing any previous planning misdemeanours.

A hybrid application seeks full consent for a visitor centre, two facilities blocks, a main entrance and retrospective consent for roadside bund mounds already constructed.

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The visitor centre would be on one level with exhibition space, cafe and storage, a terrace and jetty to the small lake as well as parking for 36 cars. It would ideally be located where a former agricultural building once existed and its highest point will be 1.3 metres lower than its predecessor.

The facilities blocks include male and female toilets and showers, laundry and external wash-up areas.

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It also seeks outline consent for eight holiday lodges over two sites and to legitimise all existing roads and tracks, bird hides, and fisherman's huts.

A professional team has been employed to advise on the project including the Hawk and Owl Trust to address all previous concerns about wildlife on the site, ecological experts, and civil engineers specialising in flood risk assessment and drainage strategy.

The design and access statement, by consultants BD+M (UK) Ltd which accompanies the application, explains the history of the site and details Mr Todd's attempts to develop it into a blend of natural wildlife habitat and leisure activities.

'In the view of those that knew him well Mr Todd's direct business style and approach was largely misunderstood,' it says. 'Inevitable frustrations arising from the process of town and country planning resulted in several planning misdemeanours and predictably Mr Todd's proposals were ultimately met with considerable opposition and resultant failure.

'The current landowner feels a moral duty to redress planning misdemeanours and to remediate any works which have been shown to be detrimental on the river and its environment.'

It adds that the applicant has been working with the local authority over many months to redress any planning enforcement issues.

The report also notes that in the pre-application consultation process Billingford parish councillors have indicated almost unanimous support in principle. Further open days and parish events will be organised for local residents to view the proposals.

It concludes: 'If consented Billingford Lakes could, in a relatively unique way, bring much enjoyment to many, in a fully planned and controlled fashion and to the benefit of all who reside in and visit the county. A place that Breckland can justly be proud of.'

* What do you think of the proposal? Email

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