In 2006 RAF Coltishall closed. The Ministry of Justice took it over and now use part of the site for a sex offenders prison. But the rest of the site has been left empty. It is really quite scandalous the way the state so frequently holds on to land and buildings for years on end, doing nothing with them. It is 600 acres altogether.
The Ministry of Justice has now said it would like to accept a bid from Norfolk County Council for it. The council won't say how much they are offering. Bruce Giddy of the Hans House Group of Companies had offered £4.1 million, for a scheme which would have included a solar farm and converting the historic buildings into a heritage centre.
But if the MOJ prefer the council's bid, presumably the council are offering more. I am rather sceptical about it. The council already has a debt of £530 million, costing its downtrodden Council Taxpayers £34 million a year in interest. Why does it want to be splash out, beating the private sector in a bidding war for a redundant RAF station? It says the price that has been broadly agreed provides "excellent all round value for money." However, the final price remains confidential, reflecting that there is still some haggling going on.
The verdict on whether it will really prove good value for money depends on whether the council will get more than it pays for it by selling farms, housing, or whatever is developed on the site. Is it an exercise in empire building? Will they keep the farms as part of their municipal serfdom with all the subsidies and meddling of their County farms? Or will they be sold to farmers? Will homes be sold or kept for social rent? Will the housing be attractive and of a decent size? Or modernist rabbit hutch "housing units"?
At the moment it is rather cut off for housing. However it rather depends how ambitious they want to be. Their report says:
It would allow us to put back some of the valued community amenities lost when the RAF took it over, such as lanes and byroads. This could improve the connectivity of existing communities, increasing access including through the use of sustainable modes such as walking and cycling.
So if there was lots of housing then the proceeds should allow for this "connectivity" which might well mean the "existing communities" would not be nimbys but give a rousing three cheers.
My top tip to Norfolk County Council if they want to make a success of developing the site is to get the Princes Foundation for Building Community to help.