Cliff Jordan Column: Latest on RAF Coltishall
The news that Norfolk County Council has agreed to purchase the former RAF Coltishall site and bring it to back to life has sparked a great deal of comment – much of it very positive – and today I'd like to bring you up to date on where we are.
MPs, many local people, businesses and councillors share our view that six years after the RAF left, the base shouldn't be left to decay any further.
We care about t
#he RAF Coltishall site and giving it a good future. We care about its heritage and history and have a long and proud past association with the site when it was used by the RAF. That is why we were given the Jaguar now standing proudly near the entrance to County Hall when the RAF pulled out.
Of course people have questions they want answers to and you can be sure that in consultation with local stakeholders we will answer them.
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But what a shame that even at this early stage, some seem interested in trying to torpedo our proposal on the basis of rumour and misinformation. The site is too important to allow that to carry on, so I am grateful to the EDP for the chance to set the record straight.
First, we don't yet own the site – the Ministry of Justice, having examined two offers on the table (ours and Mr Giddy's), has decided ours is the more credible and awarded us preferred bidder status. Anybody who buys and sells property knows that while commercial negotiations are going on the details are kept confidential. It's as simple as that. Nothing sinister, normal practice.
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But we are clear enough about the potential of the site to know for sure that buying it for Norfolk people makes good business sense for council taxpayers. After six years of it being unloved and largely unused, we simply spotted the potential to step in and deliver something really good for Norfolk. Much like our investment in helping bring fast broadband into Norfolk, dualling the A11 or unlocking the potential of development sites in King's Lynn and Thetford.
We haven't gone into secretive huddles to develop firm plans for its future because we want to develop them with people – rather than simply present plans on a no choice basis.
I read in the EDP that the rival bidder – Mr Giddy – is still intent on pursuing his own bid. That's up to him. The fact is, that months in, the MOJ haven't been impressed enough with what they've seen so far to sell him the site and give him 'preferred bidder' status.
Equally, I've read this week (David Pelly, EDP Monday July 2) that the County Council does not want people wandering about the site. That gentleman is wrong, plain and simple.
When the RAF opened the base, it closed some lanes and byways which we would like to reopen where we can. For example, we would like the perimeter track to become a circular lane for people to walk, cycle and enjoy.
We want people to know that the site has a fantastic RAF history and its heritage is important. We want to see its history interpreted imaginatively and made accessible so everyone, locals and visitors alike, can see the site, understand it and enjoy their visit.
We want to work closely with groups and organisations such as The Spirit of Coltishall Association, local people and English Heritage to make this happen.
We have been very open about our ideas for bringing the site back into productive use and want to hear people's views on them. That's why we are setting up a liaison forum on which all local stakeholders – including the Badersfield Residents Association, as we have told them, will be welcome.
We think much of the site could come back into agricultural use – possibly for new starters in agriculture, people longing to start a career in farming but not able to afford a tenancy on an existing farm.
We think some of the better buildings could be used to accommodate new businesses or expand current ones, bringing badly-needed jobs and investment for Norfolk people or perhaps create new homes. To make this happen, we are already actively investigating the infrastructure improvements needed to make this work – broadband connection and road maintenance are just two of the areas on our minds. Improvements such as these can only bring benefits to local residents more widely.
And if the runway is removed to create new farm holdings or businesses, it surely makes sense to recycle it. But it also makes sense to make sure that happens with as little disruption as possible.
When we have completed our purchase of the site, we plan special Open Days so people can come and see the site for themselves, look at emerging proposals and tell us what they think. Working within the existing planning framework already agreed for the site we will have a Master Plan that will also be consulted on as part of normal planning processes.
I hope most people will understand why I do not have all the answers to the questions that some are firing at us today and that you'll stay with us for the journey. This is one of the boldest, most imaginative decisions the council has taken. It has the potential to create hundreds of jobs – and we've taken it because we firmly believe it is in the very best interests of Norfolk.
As a Norfolk man born and bred, that's what really counts for me.
? Cliff Jordan is Cabinet member for Efficiency for Norfolk County Council.