Sunny start to new season at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Excitement was expressed about a popular Norfolk tourist attraction's new season which kicked off today, but concerns still remain about plans for a �150,000 education centre at the venue.

Phil Jones, duty manager at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, near Dereham, said there was a 'fantastic' turn-out of people for the attraction's opening day activities, which focused on a celebration of engineering.

Mr Jones also explained that work was being done to alleviate people's concerns about plans to build the environmentally-friendly education base on the site.

Norfolk County Council, which runs the museum, has applied for planning permission for the glass-fronted building which would house three toilets, two stores, a staff refreshment area and a reception space to be used for meetings, exhibitions and teaching.

Local parish councillors have expressed opposition.

Beetley parish clerk Bryan Leigh said: 'It is not the right type of building in that location next to the old workhouse. It is not in keeping.'

Mr Leigh said the council understood the project would cost between �150,000 and �200,000.

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He said: 'In the current economic climate that does not seem to be justified.'

Gressenhall Parish Council chairman Anton Crisp said: 'It is a futuristic design and does not fit in with the 200-year-old building.

'Architecturally it would be a blot on the landscape and morally spending that amount of money in times of austerity seems wrong.'

Mr Jones said: 'We have worked with the planners many times and have done the best that we can to overcome the objections and to take everyone's views on board.

'We have tried very hard to cover all of the comments we've received and the matter is now with the planners.'

At today's opening day visitors viewed an 1899 Panhard et Levassor, which was originally owned by Charles Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce, and is kept at Gressenhall, and met the team of volunteers who keep the vehicle in working order.

Gressenhall's coal-fired Garrett boiler was steamed up and stationary engines were run throughout the day.

People also took the opportunity to make their own rockets and enjoyed the surroundings of the historic workhouse, woodland playground and traditional farm.

Mr Jones said: 'The sun has been shining and there has been a fantastic turn-out of people enjoying themselves.'

Like many Norfolk tourist attractions, it is hoped that Gressenhall will reap the benefits of the worldwide audience flocking to London for the 2012 Olympic Games and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The 'staycation' factor is also expected to have an impact, with many people opting for holidays at home rather than abroad, due to the tough financial climate.

Mr Jones said: 'We had very good visitor numbers last year and we are hoping for another big year this year.

We've got a new souvenir shop and there will be loads of activities going on over the coming months.'

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