Norfolk County Council defends bid to buy RAF Coltishall

Council bosses have insisted their proposals to spend millions of pounds to buy the former air base at RAF Coltishall are a good deal for taxpayers.

But Norfolk County Council officers and leading councillors came under fire at a meeting today (Tuesday) for a lack of a publicly available business plan justifying their bid to buy the base.

The ruling Conservative cabinet has agreed in principle to purchase RAF Coltishall after the Ministry of Justice picked the county council as its preferred bidder for the 600 acre-site.

The authority, which has not revealed how much it plans to pay for the base, has indicated it would like the majority of the land to be used for agriculture, with its own tenant farmers leasing land.

It added that former air force buildings could be converted into about 65 homes, while other buildings, such as refurbished hangars, could be offered to small or medium-sized businesses to buy or rent.

But with no masterplan drawn up yet, the opposition Liberal Democrat group at County Hall 'called in' the cabinet's decision, saying too many question marks were hanging over such a major investment of public funds.

At a meeting at County Hall today, Cliff Jordan, cabinet member for efficiency, found himself in the spotlight, along with Mike Jackson, director of environment, transport and development and Mike Britch, managing director of Norfolk Property Services.

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After criticism that the county council was not providing evidence that backed up the rationale of investing millions to buy the base, Mr Jordan said: 'The problem we have always had is how much do you let be known when we are asked by the Ministry of Justice for extreme caution and commercial confidentiality?

'We have always had a difficult plank to walk. But we know what we are proposing is good value for money, we know that.

'When we talk about the real detail, we want all the community to be involved in that because this is going to become a generator for the North Norfolk area and will help Norfolk County Council to keep delivering services at the front end.'

Also called before councillors was Bruce Giddy, managing director of the Hans House Group of Companies, which tabled a rival bid for the site.

His company has offered �4.1m for the site and wants to save the former Battle of Britain's historic buildings to turn them into a heritage centre and museum.

That scheme, he said would also feature a solar farm, generating electricity for the National Grid.

Mr Giddy dismissed suggestions from councillors that his plan included relocating Norwich International Airport to Coltishall.

He said that had been looked at in the early stages of his group's involvement, but had dismissed the idea in favour of the solar farm proposal.