Trips offer clues to base’s future

Norfolk officials have embarked on a series of trips to an immigration detention centre to try to obtain a clearer picture of what could be built on part of the former RAF Coltishall complex.

Norfolk officials have embarked on a series of trips to an immigration detention centre to try to obtain a clearer picture of what could be built on part of the former RAF Coltishall complex.

Plans to build a centre to confine failed asylum- seekers who are about to be sent home were revealed by the EDP last month.

Since then there has been widespread concern about the plans and their impact on security, businesses and house values.

Those anxieties have been tempered partly by a belief that an immigration centre could bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds to the local economy.

Two trips have been arranged by Home Office bosses to allow officials from across Norfolk to view the Oakington reception centre in Cambridgeshire, with the prospect of more.

Oakington appears to have been picked as a suitable location partly because it is relatively close to Norfolk, but more so because it is also a former RAF base.

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The first visit to was last week, and another will be held on Wednesday.

Coltishall Parish Council chairman John Harding, who was on the trip last Tuesday, said the visit had been pretty much everything he expected. But he added: "My main concern remains, and that is whether or not there is another potential use which could bring even more jobs than the immigration centre. At the moment we simply aren't being told who the other interested parties are, and I think that is not helping the local communities."

Steve Blatch, one of North Norfolk District Council's strategic directors, also went to Cambridgeshire.

He said: "It was an interesting trip which gave us an understanding of a series of issues, such as numbers of people who worked there, their roles and where those employees were drawn from.

"It also showed us from a local authority point of view that, in land use terms and planning policy terms, there were no significant issues.

"But we have said to the Home Office that, in terms of the local community, there will be concerns."

Broadland district councillor Alan Mallett will be among the contingent going to Oakington on Wednesday. He said: "I will go with grave reservations but an open mind. I want to get an impression of the likely effect on the local community."

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he was pleased to hear of the visits, for which he had lobbied. "They are the best way of allowing people to make informed decisions," he added.

A Home Office spokesman said the visits would allow people to gain "a flavour of daily life in a removal centre", and there was potential for more visits after Christmas.