Stalham’s Museum of the Broads green plan sails into trouble

Trustees of a Broads tourist attraction are frustrated that a green scheme which would help cut costs, preserve artefacts and lower its carbon footprint looks set to be rejected by planners.

The Museum of the Broads, on Stalham Staithe, wants to install photovoltaic solar panels on the building's south-facing, pantiled roof.

But Broads Authority officers are recommending that members of its planning committee refuse the application when they meet on Thursday, because of its impact on a Conservation Area.

Museum trustee Trevor Bone, who has responsibility for maintaining the site and its artefacts, said they were surrounded by three boatyards, a builders' merchant's and an engineering workshop.

'I would have a certain sympathy with the Conservation Area argument if we were talking about an attractive village green with thatched cottages and a pond, but the museum area is semi-industrial,' said Mr Bone.

He also claimed the panels could only be viewed 'in the blink of an eye' from the river and were not visible from any other angle.

The panels are part of a �15,000 project which includes buying a de-humidifer to help preserve some of the historic documents, books, photographs and paintings in the museum's care.

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Museum curator Nicola Hems said items including early 20th-century boat plans were subject to damp and mould, especially because the museum was close to the river, and the Norfolk Record Office had advised that a de-humidifier would be the best way to protect them.

Trustees had hoped the panels would both pay for the de-humidifer's power and generate an estimated annual �1,700 for the museum's coffers through the national Feed-in Tariff scheme.

The current application, for panels which have just over three kilowatts generating power, is the museum's second attempt at gaining permission after Broads Authority officers advised that a first application, for panels with just under four kilowatts' capacity, would be too obtrusive. Mr Bone said anything smaller than the second plan would be uneconomic and he would attend the planning meeting to argue the museum's case.

The museum has been granted �6,000 from the Broad's Authority's sustainable development fund towards the scheme, and would expect to receive �5,000 from the Sheringham Shoal Community Fund if planning permission was granted.

Cally Smith, head of development and regeneration at the Broads Authority, said they always wanted to promote renewable energy but in the museum's case it would have an 'unacceptable impact' on the appearance of Stalham Staithe Conservation Area.

She added: 'This is very regrettable and we have worked with the museum to try to get round the problem and to look at alternative solutions.

'It is unfortunate that it is often difficult to combine very contemporary technology with traditional and familiar buildings which in this case are attractive in their own eclectic way and contribute to the character of the Broads. We must be mindful of the duty to protect the Conservation Area and, regrettably, here this protection is not compatible with the installation of photovoltaic panels.'