'Eco-town still on the cards' - warning

People living near the former RAF Coltishall airbase were last night urged to keep up the fight to prevent an eco-town being built on the site.At a public meeting attended by around 200 people, campaigners stressed repeatedly that the deeply controversial plan was still on the table.

People living near the former RAF Coltishall airbase are being urged to keep up the fight to prevent an eco-town being built on the site.

At a public meeting attended by around 200 people, campaigners stressed repeatedly that the deeply controversial plan was still on the table.

They said there was a perception that the plan, which could feature up to 10,000 homes, a new broad, new schools and employment units, had been subsumed either by the category C prison which is being built on a small part of the site or by an alternative eco-town proposal at Rackheath.

There was also a belief, they said, that because Richard Davies, the developer behind the plan, had made clear noises about pulling out, there was nothing to worry about.

But those perceptions were flawed, said the campaigners, and the apparent majority in the local communities who were against the airbase eco-town needed to battle on to make sure it never came to fruition.

“A lot of people seem to think this has gone away as far as former RAF Coltishall is concerned,” said Paul Thomas, of the Coltishall Eco-Town Action Group (Cetag).

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“But it is very much alive - please don't think it has gone away. Please don't be complacent.”

Mr Thomas was one of three representatives from Cetag on a panel at a meeting in the Three Horseshoes at Scottow last night.

Other panel members were North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and his Mid Norfolk counterpart Keith Simpson, Broadland District Council leader Simon Woodbridge, and councillor Cath Wilkins and corporate director Steve Blatch from North Norfolk District Council.

Cetag chairman Glyn Williams, who also chaired last night's meeting, said: “Coltishall remains on the list, the current application has not been withdrawn.

“And remember that even if the developer withdraws, someone else could move into his position.”

And the third Cetag member, Marilyn Farrington, added: “The rules appear to be being made up as we go along by the government, which makes it very confusing for everyone.

“Just be clear - both Rackheath and Coltishall are very much alive.”

The Cetag members said they were not against eco-development in itself, but the plans for the former airbase were too big, in the wrong place, ignored the heritage of the site and levels of public involvement had been “exceptionally poor”.

Mr Lamb said: “This whole saga demonstrates government at its absolute worst, showing arrogance and complete incompetence, which together are potentially very damaging.”

Mr Lamb went on to be fiercely critical of housing minister Caroline Flint, calling her behaviour during a visit to the Norfolk site in June “utterly graceless, utterly charmless, high handed and arrogant”.

The meeting also heard discussion about Mr Davies' possible plans of taking legal action against North Norfolk District Council and the Ministry of Justice over the prison planning application decision - and the fact this could change what happened in the future.

Mr Davies had been invited to the meeting but did not attend.

Towards the end of the meeting a spontaneous vote was taken asking people if the land should be returned to agricultural use and food production. A near unanimous response from the audience agreed with the proposition.

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