Villagers in Knapton, Paston, Bacton, Edingthorpe and Swafield discuss plans for North Walsham park-and-ride site serving Bacton Gas plant

Concerned residents packed a north Norfolk village hall to air fears about plans to send around 14 buses a day along country lanes near their homes.

The buses would be filled with Bacton Gas site construction workers being taken to or from a park-and-ride car park at the former Crane Fruehauf site on North Walsham's Cromer Road.

The site is one of two which applicants Bacton Storage Company Ltd (BSCL) and Eni Hewett Limited need to open for approximately five years in order to transport up to 1,000 people to work on aspects of the planned Baird and Deborah off-shore gas storage projects.

The 500-space North Walsham site, and a similar one proposed near the Lighthouse Inn, at Walcott, are aimed at reducing traffic flow and congestion through Bacton and Walcott.

About 60 people from villages including Knapton, Paston, Bacton, Swafield and Edingthorpe filled Knapton Village Hall for the meeting, called by Graham Jones, a North Norfolk District and Norfolk County Councillor.

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All but a handful of dissenting voices echoed worries about dangers to other road users and increased congestion on a narrow road network already under strain from articulated lorries, public buses and farm vehicles.

The proposed outbound route would take buses via North Walsham's Bacton Road and Edingthorpe Green to the site. The inward journey would be via Paston and along the B1145 past Knapton and through Swafield.

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A man living between Knapton and Swafield said there had been seven road accidents outside his home, some involving serious injury. He described the plan as 'total and utter madness.'

Objectors want to know why the applicants could not send buses to and from the North Walsham site along the designated route for Bacton Gas plant traffic, via the A149 through Smallburgh and the B1159 linking Bacton and Stalham; a move which would send buses from both park-and-ride sites along Walcott seafront.

Those at the meeting agreed to write formal letters of objection to the application, lodged with North Norfolk District Council, and to support Paston Parish Council chairman Elizabeth Purdy's suggestion that the gas-site companies be asked to fund an inland link road, avoiding Walcott seafront.

Speaking directly after the meeting Mrs Purdy said when the gas site was opened in the 1970s it had been thought that it would only be used for about 20 years and so no real thought had therefore been given to adequate access.

'There is no proper road to such a huge installation and it's always been a major worry and anxiety - if there was a major incident, how would all the necessary emergency vehicles get there fast?' she said. 'If they're that big, and long-term, why shouldn't they build a new road?'

But Knapton resident Alan Leedham felt it was 'scaremongering' to fuss about an extra 14 buses a day which would not be going directly through the village. He did not think they would make a difference.

Another Knapton resident, David Bindley, questioned the environmental impact of insisting that all site traffic use the designated route, which he estimated would mean buses having to travel nearly 172,000 extra miles each year.

Mr Jones said using the designated route was 'a no-brainer' as it was long-established and successful.

He also backed North Walsham Town Council's objections to using the Crane Fruehauf site which is earmarked for employment. Councillors say the plan would not create jobs and would delay development.

Julian Mears, spokesman for Centrica, one of the companies making up BSCL, said the schedule for the Baird project was being reassessed 'in light of current market conditions.' Work to secure necessary consents remained a priority and they were talking to North Norfolk District Council and Norfolk County Council highways to address local concerns.

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