Repeated arson attacks show why redevelopment is much-needed for Hemsby
PUBLISHED: 12:43 02 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:07 04 September 2019
Our coastal village of Hemsby has always been one of my favourite parts of Norfolk.
As a child I used to love nothing more than ducking in and out of the 'amusements' whilst trying to make the bag of 2ps given to me by my mum and dad last as long as possible.
Now, as an adult, my family are fortunate enough to have a small static caravan on the edge of the village and we head there at least five times a year and I get to enjoy watching my two boys do the same.
It has its detractors but I don't think you'll find many places in Norfolk where a family with young children can find so much to occupy their time.
A typical day for us will consist of beach, amusements, trampoline, bouncy castle, massive slide, fish and chips, ice cream, rides, play barn and beach again.
Often we'll round it off with an early evening trip to the Lacon Arms where the two boys will reacquaint themselves with the pirate ship play area, while we slump over a pint wondering where they get their energy from and if it will ever actually run out!
It's this passion for the village that made me so pleased to see the regeneration work that has taken place there, namely the multi-million pound redevelopment of the Richardson's Holiday Park on Beach Road.
While Hemsby still remains massively popular with thousands, judging by the crowds we see every time we go, there's no denying parts of it need a refresh and I hope this is the first step of that spreading to elsewhere.
However, there is one particular piece of land which threatens to undermine the good work to keep Hemsby alive and kicking, namely the old Pontins site, also on Beach Road.
For those who have missed it, this parcel of land has stood derelict for ten years and become a magnet for arsonists.
There were two more fires last week and there have been more than 15 call-outs in the past five years. It's a serious problem, because not only are the fire starters putting themselves at risk, they endanger the lives of the fire crews every time they have to attend.
At the same time a planning battle has raged over the long-term future of the site. This came to a head early this year when a 190-home development was approved by Great Yarmouth Council, despite protestations from people living nearby.
I'll be honest they are protests I've always struggled to understand. Of course it's always vital when development is planned that communities fight for what they think is right and make sure new homes are suitable for the areas in which they are planned.
But surely it's better for all involved to have something on the site rather than it being only a matter of time before a life is lost there?
Objectors argued the land was earmarked for tourism purposes and therefore the plans should be rejected. However, there has been 10 years pass-by without a suitable tourism firm coming forward so it looks like that ship has sailed. It can't simply lay vacant indefinitely, growing even more derelict and becoming even more of a danger.
And while it's important local facilities, like schools and doctors surgeries, are improved to be able to cope with an influx of around 3-400 more people, I would argue that overall the benefit to Hemsby could be fantastic in terms of having more people to spend money there.
As a country, in particular in the east, we have to find ways to cope with growing populations and find suitable places for people to live.
I'd much rather we put to use troublesome sites like this, than simply dig up swathes of the countryside elsewhere and threaten the delicate development to countryside balance that so many of us hold so dear in this wonderful part of the world.