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18 December 2013, 18:24 | Updated: 19 December 2013, 06:24
MP Norman Lamb's told Norfolk County Council it needs to "get its act together" over plans for the former RAF Coltishall base.
Mr Lamb told Heart: "I continue to be concerned about Norfolk County Council’s plans for the RAF Coltishall site. Before it was purchased, I made clear that the County Council needed to have a considered business plan for the site. The Conservative administration ploughed on regardless, spending around £4m on a site that has remained dormant ever since. It is completely unacceptable for public money to be used in this way at a time when the Council’s finances are so tight.
“I was incredibly frustrated to hear that the Council is now starting exploratory excavations of parts of the runway at Coltishall, damaging this valuable heritage asset and spending public money, despite the fact that it still doesn’t seem to have any clear business plan for the site.
“The Council urgently needs to get its act together and start to generate some revenue from the site – even if that means letting it out for less than they had originally hoped. Any income from the site could be used to fund important council services like schools and social care, and getting businesses to move to the site could provide valuable employment for local people. Crucially, this must be done in close consultation with the local community.
“I am incredibly keen to work with the Council to find a viable commercial use for the site – and if necessary will lobby Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who has always taken a keen interest in supporting Norfolk businesses, for government support for any business proposals. I am grateful that I have been able to secure a meeting with Councillor George Nobbs, who is the Cabinet Member for Economic Development at NCC, to raise my concerns with him in person. I will be meeting him early next year.”
But the comments have angered Leader of Norfolk County Council George Nobbs. He's given Heart this reply to Mr Lamb's words:
"I find it sad that Norman Lamb feels that he has to yet again indulge in point-scoring against the County Council. What makes it so much more disappointing is the inconsistency of his criticisms. He complains at one and the same time about an apparent lack of action and at the actions that we are taking over the runway.
"He chooses to voice his criticism at the very time when a number of positive things are happening at Coltishall and, paradoxically, before the meeting with me that he was so anxious for and which I was happy to agree to.
"Mr Lamb says he's incredibly frustrated. I can tell him that I and my Cabinet colleagues (who include three Liberal Democrats) find the litany of criticism from Norfolk's MPs equally frustrating and difficult to reconcile with their trappish-like silence when the Tory's ran this Council.
"If Mr Lamb is genuinely interested in finding out the facts about Coltishall, which he could have done at any time prior to today, let me set the record straight for him.
"We have always been clear that aggregate recovery from the northern and southern ends of the runway was an option to help future Highways projects and contribute towards the repayment of capital costs of purchasing former RAF Coltishall. Last week a successful planing trial was carried out to test the grading of the concrete and also determine the noise levels whilst the planer is in operation. The results will help to inform our decisions as we move forward. The recently published development vision does not seek to promote aviation activity. The removal of some areas of the runway are consistent with this approach.
"Since buying the site in January we have liaised with members of the local community as well as the population of Norfolk as a whole. During the summer we held a public consultation for all Norfolk residents to feedback their thoughts on our Development Vision regarding the site. We hold regular Community Liaison Reference Group meetings which is made up of local Members, local residents and County Council staff, and both local MPs are invited to attend. Only last week, we held a pre-planning application meeting with the residents in Badersfield with regards to the development of the Officers' Mess.
"We have always stressed that the purchase and redevelopment of the site was seen as a long term investment with the creation of employment, opportunities for local businesses and the potential to provide a range of facilities which could be accessed by the local community. A business plan has been developed and will continue to develop as the site comes back into economic use and buildings are let or developed. We are working with a number of serious enquiries and will make announcements about those at the appropriate time. We will continue to actively stimulate business interest in the site and hope to acquire a Marketing partner in due course to support this work.
"With regards to heritage we are very much aware of its importance and have been working closely with organisations such as English Heritage and the Spirit of Coltishall. We are doing all we can to preserve the heritage aspect of the former base and in January, we will be opening up the site for tours so that members of the public can enjoy many of the assets the site has to offer."