Ex-airbase prison plan decision deferred

A PLAN to build a prison at the former airbase at RAF Coltishall reached the decision stage for the first time this week - but that decision was deferred to allow more information to be gathered, mainly about the huge number of trees which look set to be lost if the plan goes ahead.

A PLAN to build a prison at the former airbase at RAF Coltishall reached the decision stage for the first time this week - but that decision was deferred to allow more information to be gathered, mainly about the huge number of trees which look set to be lost if the plan goes ahead.

The 500 strong Category C prison attracted a range of support and criticism during Monday's meeting of the east development control committee at North Norfolk District Council.

While members of the committee expressed their own concerns and reasons for backing the project, there were also spoken submissions from parish councils and members of the Ministry of Justice team behind the plan.

A lengthy debate was dominated by the fact 154 trees, all of which are subject to a relatively recently imposed tree preservation order, will be cut down for security and safety reasons.

To mitigate this loss, the ministry has said it will replant trees in neighbouring locations. But councillors were keen to hear more detail and to pursue a suggestion by committee member Peter Wilcox that a community woodland of the same size as the development area - 12 hectares - be sited on another part of the former airbase. Mr Wilcox said: “Let's get some carbon payback.”

Colin Ewing, of Skeyton Parish Council, said he firmly opposed the application: “This was the last operational Battle of Britain airfield, part of the heritage of Norfolk and the heritage of this country.

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“If you allow the chainsaws in that's the end of it. I hate to think what the tabloid press will make of it when the chainsaws go in, I can't help but think the word 'vandals' would feature in the headline.”

Another key issue in the debate was the proximity of the prison to the Douglas Bader Centre, a pupil referral unit dealing with vulnerable children. Among those explaining how they intended to deal with this issue was Paul Cawkwell, who will be governor of the prison if it is built. He said the main movement times of prisoners would be limited so not to clash with the times pupils were arriving at or leaving the school.

“We can be a good neighbour to the community,” added Mr Cawkwell.

However committee member Barbara McGoun and others said they were not entirely convinced about the need to lose every single one of the 150-plus trees.

This question and a number of others will be put to the ministry officials in advance of the next council planning meeting on July 31.

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