Solar panels idea for former RAF Coltishall runway

Ideas for the future of the former RAF base at Coltishall were discussed by councillors and residents last night (Thursday) – including a suggestion to retain the historic runway as part of a solar energy farm.

Norfolk County Council is negotiating to buy the 600-acre plot from the Ministry Of Justice with the intention of reviving the site for farming, housing and light industry.

Opponents of the plans fear the potential removal of the runway could destroy the heritage of the former World War Two station.

But councillors insisted that no decisions had yet been made, and that all ideas on the development of the site would be considered to ensure the site could prosper without ruining its historic significance.

Last night, about 30 people attended the second meeting of a Community Liaison Reference Group at County Hall, to discuss their ideas.

Steve Riley, chairman of the Badersfield Residents' Committee, presented a 500-signature petition from local people opposing the removal of the runway and presented a three-page proposal suggesting it be retained alongside a 50 megawatt solar farm.

But county councillor Cliff Jordan said another suggestion to use the oldest part of the runway as a base for solar panels was also under consideration.

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Mr Riley said: 'Our proposals are for the development of the base in a balanced way which will preserve it in a historic sense. We want to leave the whole runway in place as an asset for future aviation. Mr Jordan is still talking about removing most of the runway and only putting some small solar panels on part of it.

'We have given the council our proposals in writing and I was prevented from amplifying on them at the meeting, so we must just wait to see what their response is.'

Mr Jordan, the council's cabinet member for efficiency, said: 'In all, the meeting has been very constructive and I thought the majority of people were being very helpful. We have moved a tremendous way forward from the last meeting, and we have been able to show people all the ideas that have come through from the public.

'We had one proposition put into the council where the main runway between the perimeter track would be left there and put down to solar panels. That was the idea of a 14-year-old lad. Apparently that is the oldest part of the runway, so keeping it and building solar panels on it kills two birds with one stone.

'There were a lot of good ideas, but we have not come to any decisions. We cannot dismiss the heritage, and we need to look at how we get that integrated so people can go around the whole area and learn about at the people who were there.'

Mr Jordan said he hopes the deal to secure the site will be finalised by the end of September.

'That is why we are having these meetings to develop the plans,' he said. 'We are not dictating to anybody.'

Other suggestions discussed at the meeting surrounded possible traffic management solutions, the refurbishment of the memorial gardens and the re-use of historic buildings with display panels showing their significance to the war effort.

Tom Fitzpatrick, cabinet member for economic development at North Norfolk District Council, also attended. He said: 'I found it very interesting. The various local communities and interest groups are putting forward their ideas, and it is good to get those ideas out there in order to come up with what is best for the base.

'At the end of the day it is all fairly high-level at the moment.

'There has been a lot of talk about what will or will not happen. It is all up in the air but it is good to have a group with a brainstorm, think-tank approach – from which officers are able to produce a more detailed plan.'

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