April 19 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
A Norfolk MP has hit out at Norfolk County Council calling for the authority to “get its act together” and start generating revenue from the RAF Coltishall site.
“I find it sad that Norman Lamb feels that he has to yet again indulge in point-scoring against the county council. What makes it so much more disappointing is the inconsistency of his criticisms. He complains at one and the same time about an apparent lack of action and at the actions that we are taking over the runway.
“He chooses to voice his criticism at the very time when a number of positive things are happening at Coltishall and, paradoxically, before the meeting with me that he was so anxious for and which I was happy to agree to.
“Mr Lamb says he’s incredibly frustrated. I can tell him that I and my cabinet colleagues, who include three Liberal Democrats, find the litany of criticism from Norfolk’s MPs equally frustrating and difficult to reconcile with their trappish-like silence when the Tory’s ran this council.
“If Mr Lamb is genuinely interested in finding out the facts about Coltishall, which he could have done at any time prior to today, let me set the record straight for him.
“We have always been clear that aggregate recovery from the northern and southern ends of the runway was an option to help future highways projects and contribute towards the repayment of capital costs of purchasing former RAF Coltishall. Last week a successful planing trial was carried out to test the grading of the concrete and also determine the noise levels whilst the planer is in operation. The results will help to inform our decisions as we move forward. The recently published development vision does not seek to promote aviation activity. The removal of some areas of the runway are consistent with this approach.
“Since buying the site in January we have liaised with members of the local community as well as the population of Norfolk as a whole. During the summer we held a public consultation for all Norfolk residents to feedback their thoughts on our Development Vision regarding the site. We hold regular Community Liaison Reference Group meetings which is made up of local members, local residents and county council staff, and both local MPs are invited to attend. Only last week, we held a pre-planning application meeting with the residents in Badersfield with regards to the development of the Officers’ Mess.
“We have always stressed that the purchase and redevelopment of the site was seen as a long term investment with the creation of employment, opportunities for local businesses and the potential to provide a range of facilities which could be accessed by the local community. A business plan has been developed and will continue to develop as the site comes back into economic use and buildings are let or developed. We are working with a number of serious enquiries and will make announcements about those at the appropriate time. We will continue to actively stimulate business interest in the site and hope to acquire a marketing partner in due course to support this work.
“With regards to heritage we are very much aware of its importance and have been working closely with organisations such as English Heritage and the Spirit of Coltishall. We are doing all we can to preserve the heritage aspect of the former base and in January, we will be opening up the site for tours so that members of the public can enjoy many of the assets the site has to offer.”
The council bought the site from the Ministry of Justice in January this year.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “I continue to be concerned about the council’s plans for the RAF Coltishall site. Before it was purchased, I made clear that the council needed to have a considered business plan for the site. The Conservative administration ploughed on regardless, spending around £4m on a site that has remained dormant ever since. It is completely unacceptable for public money to be used in this way at a time when the council’s finances are so tight.
“I was incredibly frustrated to hear that the council is now starting exploratory excavations of parts of the runway at Coltishall, damaging this valuable heritage asset and spending public money, despite the fact that it still doesn’t seem to have any clear business plan for the site.”
Neil Smith, RAF Coltishall project manager for the council, said: “A planing trial took place on Thursday December 12 on the northern part of the runway which was successful. The testing has allowed us to determine whether this technique will be suitable if aggregate recovery work takes place in the future and also whether the runway material itself will be appropriate to use for future highways schemes.”
A public consultation about developing the area around the former officers’ mess into housing was held on December 11.
A planning application could be submitted next year.
Mr Lamb added: “The council urgently needs to get its act together and start to generate some revenue from the site – even if that means letting it out for less than they had originally hoped. Any income from the site could be used to fund important council services like schools and social care, and getting businesses to move to the site could provide valuable employment for local people. Crucially, this must be done in close consultation with the local community.”
He said he was keen to work with the council to find a “viable commercial use” for the site and would lobby business secretary Vince Cable, if necessary.
The MP will be meeting with council leader George Nobbs early next year.