‘The new ‘Gold Rush’.... but haven’t we been here before?’

California... Norfolk-style: Norfolk and the Fens are being promised a whole new raft of new gold ru

California... Norfolk-style: Norfolk and the Fens are being promised a whole new raft of new gold rush schemes, says Keith Skipper. - Credit: Archant

It seems a shade perverse to contemplate multi-million pound visions to fire our local economy while a dark symphony of savage cuts continue to drown out so many little songs of hope.

Perhaps politicians and business interests at all levels simply need something of a fantasy future to make any kind of sense of a perilous present. They have to convince themselves and everyone else that good times really are just around the corner.

Well, it may take several extra corners, a host of advertisement-decked roundabouts, the occasional major diversion, countless rows of cones, surprise traffic lights and an odd cul-de-sac before some big schemes unveiled recently even find a map to hint of a route towards the road to staggering prosperity.

We're told this coming May will see the official launch of a plan to create a technology corridor along the A11. Aims are quite straightforward – to create 10,000 new jobs, attract £905m of private investment and build up to 20,000 more houses between Norwich and Newmarket.

Sounds a bit scary to me. How many more precious green spaces and prime agricultural acres will have to be sacrificed if this audacious idea finds favour? Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman is looking on the brighter side: 'I believe we now have a once-in-a-generation chance to make the eastern region the new California.'

Sounds a bit familiar to me. We already have a fairly old California on the coast just north of Caister. It's a bungalow settlement and holiday haunt with amusement arcades for those with hopes of striking it rich. Just needs Silicon Valley, a few thousand hippies and a big chap called Arnie to make it exactly like its name-sake over the pond.

A 'gold-rush' in the 19th century inspired a chorus of 'California, here we come!' with a Norfolk accent. A find by 'pawkers' – that's Norfolk for beachcombers – sent waves of excitement along the coast. A hoard of gold coins of various reigns from Henry VIII to Charles I had experts suggesting they must have been buried during the Civil War in a now-forgotten hamlet destroyed by coastal erosion.

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The hoard had been exposed again and scattered in the sand by another scour of tides 200 or so years later. In any event, one of those 'pawkers', a fisherman from nearby Scratby, bagged about 90 coins – and bought himself a new boat with the proceeds. The new California attracted thousands of treasure-seekers with buckets and spades.

It remains to be seen if various funding agencies can come up with a few pots of modern gold to turn on the technology corridor riches tap. Perhaps they should note the amount of time it's taking to turn a bold Great Yarmouth entertainment scheme into reality.

Plans to bring a casino and leisure complex to the resort were first unveiled in 2007 after the government gave the go-ahead for eight large casinos dotted across the country, presumably as part of a subtle campaign to show we'd never had it so good.

The Yarmouth vision also included a 180-room hotel, 10-screen cinema, 22-lane bowling alley and restaurant and bars on wasteland next to the Pleasure Beach on South Denes. Albert Jones, man behind The Edge scheme, says he hopes to have something solid to report in the next few weeks.

The January speculation window also opened on Wisbech with 'garden town' headlines paving the way to 10,000 extra homes, a retirement village, enterprise zone, new schools and a rail link. There's ambitious talk of setting up the Wisbech Development Corporation, with about £800,000 required to do that, and work starting in 2019.

A few days after that vision was unleashed came a telling indication of the size of an image problem confronting this would-be garden town … 'Wisbech is the second worst-rated town in the country for integration,' according to think tank Policy Exchange.

Call me an old cynic, but I can put my finger on several audacious proposals designed to change the face of Norfolk failing to get off the drawing-board. Top marks for spectacular fall from a peak of immense anticipation must go to Technopolis, an £80m concept intended to put Norwich at the forefront of early days of people embracing the internet more than 20 years ago.

I have a brochure bearing the legend: 'The Future Is in Your Hands' and with a picture of sunrise emerging through a cloudy sky. No corridor of uncertainty about that.

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