North Walsham museum’s expansion bid hits the buffers

Owners of a north Norfolk attraction which is desperate to expand say they may have to move away because their landlords won't sell them a large neighbouring building which has been empty for decades.

Steve Harmer and his father George have spent several years asking to buy the warehouse next to their Norfolk Motorcycle Museum, based at North Walsham Railway Station.

But owners GB Railfreight (GBRf) have refused to budge. Instead, the company has offered the building rent-free to a community group for short-term use.

'We're very much packed to the rafters here. We need at least half as much space again,' said Steve Harmer, 42.

That building is an eyesore - it's been empty for nearly 30 years. It would be ideal for us. We don't understand why they won't sell. It must be costing them money.'

The Harmers are now looking for alternative premises within a five to 10-mile radius of North Walsham but said they would rather stay put as the 5,000 to 7,000 people who visited the museum every year, from all over the world, knew where to find them.

The museum, which opened 18 years ago, houses around 120 motorcycles plus 30 to 40 mopeds, bicycles and other machines. The Harmers also carry out restoration and buy and sell from the premises.

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Steve Harmer said they would like to display the bikes better but lack of space inside their 2,5000-3,000 sq ft building, which they rent from GBRf, meant they had to be placed in close lines.

He estimated the warehouse would offer a further 10,000-12,000 sq ft of space but it would probably cost them an 'extortionate' �28,000 a year to rent and needed basic services installed, such as toilets and a water supply.

Alexis Thurston, head coach of North Walsham Gymnastics Club, said they had 'pretty much given up' on hopes of taking up GBRf's rent-free offer to community groups.

The club had hoped to move into the warehouse but they had worked out it would cost them about �100,000 to repair and equip the building for use.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who has written to London-based GBRf on the Harmers' behalf, said he could not understand why the company would not sell when it did not appear to have any plans for the warehouse which had been empty for so long.

Mr Lamb added: 'I am very frustrated by their stewardship of that site generally and about their being a remote landlord, unresponsive to local needs.'

A company spokesman said: 'GBRf would like to confirm that the warehouse is not for sale. However, as previously stated, last year GBRf offered to make the space available for short term use by community groups and a number of organisations expressed an interest which GBRf is in the process of reviewing.'