'Development: Is it a benefit or blight?'

The family bungalow at Bacton in the 1950s. 

The family bungalow at Bacton in the 1950s. - Credit: Paul Archives

In his latest column,  Robert Paul, Museum of the Broads director and president (and past chairman and vice president of the Broads Society) reflects on development - its past and present.

I have always been a bit of a rebel. As long ago as 1954 I rebelled against my parents because they refused to let me watch a Punch and Judy show for a fourth time!

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the  Broads Society.

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the Broads Society. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Paul

In 1968, I was appalled at the prospect of a massive project to locate the Natural Gas Terminal, known then as the Bacton Gas Site, on a stretch of beautiful unspoilt coastline also resulting in the loss of prime agricultural land. This terminal was to bring ashore huge quantities of cheap natural gas which benefitted the whole country.

I felt strongly about this partly because all my childhood summer holidays spent at Bacton.

The first Keswick Bungalow Guest House, which belonged to Mr Paul's aunt in the 1950s and early 60s

The first Keswick Bungalow Guest House, which belonged to Mr Paul's aunt in the 1950s and early 60s and was rolled back to it save from the 1953 floods. - Credit: Paul Archives

We had a little chalet on the ‘cliffs’ at the bottom of Keswick Road, near to what was known as ‘Keswick Gap’.

The family Austin 10 was packed with of tons of luggage, and complete with dog and cat, we made what seemed like the major expedition to Bacton for the summer with the inevitable stop to allow the cat to be sick.

A beach holiday on Bacton beach in the 1950s. 

A beach holiday on Bacton beach in the 1950s. - Credit: Paul Archives

To this day I know little of the derivation of Keswick – was it a lost village, or just a small hamlet between Bacton and Walcott?

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What I remember so clearly, is the wonderful atmosphere down Keswick Road – there was a tiny sweet shop, a little bakery where we would collect warm bread rolls for breakfast and a fish shop which specialised in smoked herring.

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the  Broads Society.

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the Broads Society. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Paul

The mix of those aromas, baking bread, smoking fish, is still with me today, and so evocative. 

It is very different now - those shops have sadly long gone and there has been lots of new housing estates and made-up roads as opposed to ‘tracks’.

My aunt ran a guest house on Keswick Cliffs, it was a huge rambling timber bungalow and it creaked. 

A flyer for the Hippodrome in Norwich.   

A flyer for the Hippodrome in Norwich. - Credit: Paul Archives

In 1953, with those terrible floods threatening, Boulton and Paul were employed to move the whole bungalow, and it was very big, back from the cliff top about 100 yards, on rollers.

A lot of those cliffs were lost but the bungalow was saved.

My mother’s uncle owned the old Hippodrome Theatre in Norwich (originally known as the Grand Opera House) until about 1910, in the heyday of music hall.

A flyer for Give a day for Norfolk.  

A flyer for Give a day for Norfolk. - Credit: Robert Paul

It was a magnificent building unrivalled in the city. It was allowed to fall into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1963 in favour of a multi-storey car park – St Augustines.

It was this kind of disregard for what many held dear that I found hard to come to terms with. The 1960s have a lot to answer for. 

The construction of the Bacton Gas Terminal in the 1960s.

The construction of the Bacton Gas Terminal in the 1960s. - Credit: Paul Archives

Bacton gas terminal from the air.

Bacton gas terminal from the air. - Credit: MIKE PAGE

It was a bad period so far as planning and construction was concerned – examples include Anglia Square, Normandy Tower, the Westlegate Tower, all built between 1959 and 1970.

What I am getting at is how we view planning and development in our county. Maybe because both sides of my family are deeply rooted in the city and county, I feel very protective of Norfolk.

Of course it is easy to be unduly nostalgic, look back with rose tinted glasses, and yearn for things that could never have survived.

But I believe there are things that deserve to be preserved and protected.

In the late 1980s, concern was growing for the county in the light of major housing developments, new roads, increased weight limits for HGVs, new industrial development.

Some very prominent people in the county were very vociferous in their concerns including the then High Sheriff, Thomas Cook of Sennowe Park.

There were headlines in the EDP such as ‘Greedy Developers Ruining Norfolk’ - ‘Tourist Industry Could be Wrecked’ - ‘Norfolk is Being Wrecked says Poll’

Feelings were running very high so Mr John Holliday, a teacher at Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham called for a special day for likeminded people ‘Give A Day for Norfolk’ on Saturday, September 10, 1988 at Wymondham College.

It took place and was very well attended and widely reported. The EDP’s ‘own’ Keith Skipper was a major player in this ‘movement’.

The flyer had messages such as ‘Houses for the Rich or Homes for the Poor’, ‘Will our Countryside Survive’, ‘Working Villages, not Dormitories’

Thomas Cook was very outspoken on the subject. John Birkbeck, chairman of the County Council Planning Sub-Committee also shared serious concerns.

Of course, in the end, all this had little effect. And major developments and new roads continued apace.

Can you stop what is seen as progress? Not unless enough people are prepared to stand up for what they believe in.

It reminds me a little of Kett's Rebellion in 1549. Robert Kett and his followers were objecting against ‘enclosure’ and the subsequent loss of their traditional way of life.

He, of course was not successful and the rebellion came to a bloody end. Perhaps the modern (peaceful) equivalent is the ’Give a day for Norfolk’ initiative.

Back in the 80s there were objections to the construction of the inner ring road and to the proposal of 22,000 new homes in the county in that decade.

Today, we see the recent construction of the Northern Distributor Road, a brand new four lane highway which will eventually bring new industry and retail developments – they always do.

There is a plan for 2,100 homes in North Walsham’ alone, many more for towns in North Norfolk including Holt, Wells, Blakeney and Fakenham putting inevitable strains on infrastructure.

It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? Will it ever end? I guess not.

Sometimes we object to certain planning applications that may affect us directly. If enough people object the application could be rejected, but often succeeds on appeal.

If there are enough people who feel strongly enough, then change can happen. But it needs sustained hard work.

The only other way we can influence the future development of our county is to comment on Local Plans.

These plans dictate what will and will not be permitted in planning terms for the next 10 years, but it needs effort and perseverance in order to affect any change.

Another way is to join local societies and pressure groups, such as The Broads Society whose main task is to help protect and preserve the important things in the Broads National Park.

One of the main tasks is to scrutinise all planning applications and comment as necessary. The bigger the membership the stronger the voice.

North Norfolk District Council’s local planning document is now in its consultancy stage, so why not take a look? It’s so important. The consultation period ends at the end of February.

I love this quote from Oscar Wilde – ‘ Those who believe that being small means you can’t make a difference, obviously have never been in a bed with a flea!