Free warehouse offer comes with conditions

A 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' offer from the leaseholders of an eyesore site has met a mixed reaction in North Walsham.

GB Railfreight says it is prepared to let a voluntary group use its warehouse at North Walsham Railway Station for free – but in return the group would have to maintain the unsightly area of scrubland between the building and Norwich Road, one of the main gateways to the town.

The firm says it is trying to find a tenant for the site but that 'there has been no realistic interest in recent times due to the current economic situation.'

A group taking up the offer would be responsible for paying any business rates, currently �4,500 pa, and could use the site 'until such time as it is required for other purposes.'

Meg Rees, chairman of North Walsham in Bloom, described the offer as a 'bit backhanded.'

The in-bloom group's former chairman had spent two years trying to get the railway land owners to improve the site to no avail; a situation that Mrs Rees said made her feel 'very cross'.

'For a group like ours to take it on would be a major proposition,' she said. 'All but three of us are old age pensioners. We can maintain and plant flowerbeds but we couldn't take on this sort of thorough land clearance.

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'It's also on a slope and close to the busy railway entrance so there would be a certain amount of danger involved for anyone who took it on.'

But town mayor Anne Rose felt the proposal had definite possibilities and that the warehouse might provide an indoor sports and activities venue for young people.

The company's offer came in response to a letter from North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb asking about GB Railfreight's plans for the site; one of nine identified as eyesores by North Walsham Town Council last year.

Landowners were asked to tidy up and the railway entrance land was cleared and fenced some time ago, although fresh vegetation now covers the patch.

Mr Lamb said the firm's offer was definitely worth promoting as the site had looked derelict for many years, which was very negative for the town, especially as it was what first greeted people arriving in North Walsham by train.

But he felt any voluntary group would need assurance that they could use the warehouse for a guaranteed amount of time to make it worth their while.

A spokesman for GB Railfreight said the offer had been made in good faith. The warehouse was large, clean and tidy inside, although its windows had been boarded up to prevent break-ins.

Any interested group should ring 020 7904 3393.