Four years after it agreed to a 25 year arrangement for Harding’s Pits to be managed as a Doorstep Green, King’s Lynn borough council wants the land back.
The Fight for the Pits
Gone — but don’t make the mistake of forgetting about it
The King’s Lynn marina project has been booted into the long grass.
Estimates of just how long it will stay there range from several years to a decade or more. The borough council, the promoter of the scheme, announced in the late summer that its very ambitious plans for the redevelopment of the whole King’s Lynn waterfront, with the marina at its centre, was to be reviewed. This was in the light of the continuing recession, the static housing market (land sales for the houses and flats to be built around the marina were hoped to pay for it) and the appearance of a big black hole in the financial calculations which would have led to a £10 million plus shortfall in funding. An offputting analysis of the borough’s future regeneration plans, issued by the Audit Commission, may also have some influence.
Critics of the scheme feel vindicated and most townspeople are greatly relieved that the huge risks inherent in the project have faded — for the present.
Council leaders and officials wedded to their project insist that it will be revived once economic conditions improve. In the mean time they have opted for a policy which the review report describes as ‘Do minimum to progress NORA development.’
Doing the minimum
From the report this minimum seems to be very minimal indeed; it is limited to dredging out and presumably repairing the walls of Blubberhouse Creek. The creek will then act as an additional storage point for surface water flowing off the roofs and concrete of the first phase of the NORA development east of Saddlebow Road and into the River Nar.
The cost of this work is estimated at £812,017 and it is claimed that this sum is already available from the NORA budget.
It is from Blubberhouse Creek that the diverted arm of the Nar would run across the middle of Harding’s Pits doorstep green to a new sluice on the east bank of the River Ouse. It seems that this is not going to happen immediately (and not at all if HPCA can prevent it) but it would be one of the early operations in the eventual development of the waterfront regeneration scheme.
The review report also suggests that an outline planning application for the whole waterfront site, presumably including the Nar diversion, could be drawn up and passed now. This might save time and money later on. The cost estimate in the report for this work is £300,000 (planners get paid less than bankers, but not so much less) — and with a consent in place the borough could keep this part of its plans on the back burner as long as it wishes subject only to the need to renew it every five years.
Did our plan waste too little money?
As was expected, the alternative marina plan which HPCA presented to the council for consideration was rejected out of hand. Reports have come back that when it was introduced at meetings during the review process there was much scoffing and ribald laughter from the suits.
A whole range of objections supported the announcement from King’s Court that the HPCA idea was not feasible. On examination they turned out to be almost precisely the reasons why the borough’s own scheme would be just as unworkable.
The review report, for example, complains that the Association’s scheme would need to be subsidised by the council taxpayer. It was admitted by the borough some time ago that its own scheme would need subsidy to tempt a commercial operator, possibly for some years.
The HPCA scheme provides for more space for the marina infrastructure while offering areas of mixed use development around a smaller, more historically relevant basin, the whole having the potential to be far more visually attractive than large blocks of residential development crammed into insufficient space so that they may overlook a large, plain rectangular basin.
A further criticism is that the HPCA plan would require a sophisticated water management scheme. So it would. So would that of the borough, and as neither scheme has been costed there is no evidence to suggest that water management for the HPCA scheme would cost any more and could quite possibly cost much less.
The overall cost would certainly be very much less. The HPCA plan would save millions of pounds worth of investment by making use of existing facilities and avoiding heavy expenditure on groundworks. It also provides for a smaller marina which it might be possible to fill with paying boats, something which the council’s much more ambitious plan is very unlikely to do.
The council plan has already cost many hundreds of thousands of pounds in council tax payers cash spent on consultancy fees. The HPCA proposal has cost nothing other than a little intelligent thought based on good local knowledge.
In all, the HPCA proposal offers a rather better chance of Lynn getting a marina which it can afford and of a scale which might just allow it to be financially sustainable. If that is not acceptable to a commercial operator there is no reason why the council should not operate the facility itself. Wisbech seems to manage.
And the big risk with the borough’s marina plan is that its marina would struggle, would go into receivership within a few years (during which time the borough picked up the losses) and would then be sold to an entrepreneur at a fraction of what it cost to develop. This has been the fate of at least one east cost marina in the past.
Under those circumstances the King’s Lynn marina might well be a commercial success. The commercial disaster would have been taken care of by the King’s Lynn council tax payer.
Reviewing the present situation, it is also appropriate to ask whether it is now time for the borough to came clean and admit that the real reason for the diversion of the River Nar — and the consequent destruction of the Doorstep Green — has little to do with flood prevention and everything to do with freeing up additional land for the residential development? Without the residential land sales the entire marina scheme as presently envisaged can never be financed.
How soon is it intended that the Nar diversion will take place? An expensive bridge (couple of million, not much if you say it quick, but who will be finding that) will be needed to carry the bus route over the river. If it has to be built after the river has been diverted the cost will be all the more and thus even more wasteful of public money. The road engineers will have to get their skates on. Work has to be completed by March 31, 2011, this deadline being one of the conditions under which central government has provided the money.
From that there does arise the interesting question: What happens if, on March 31 2011, the road is only part completed? Does the Treasury look the other way? Does it grab back that part of the cash that has not been used? Does it grab back the lot? It might be an idea for someone in a suit to ask this question now.
And another thing…
That’s not the only question to be asked about the road. The planning meeting of the Development Control Board (used to be the borough planning committee) which granted the consent for the construction of the road did not exactly stick to the letter of procedure.
Planning consents are supposed to be based upon the merits or otherwise of the scheme in front of the board. At this meeting a borough council officer unconnected with the planning department was allowed to make an impassioned speech to board members in which the burden was that without the new road King’s Lynn and its citizenry would be condemned to a long, slow death. No investment, no work, no future. This was because without the road, the waterfront regeneration could not go ahead. It was needed as access to the development sites.
There was a noticeable discomfort among some members of the board at this impropriety but no one made any move to strike the interjection from the record and the consent was granted.
It was granted for a road to be used by buses only. The only additional traffic would be pedestrians and cyclists.
Now this presents the intriguing prospect that as, when and if construction of the marina and the blocks of flats which are to surround it does get under way, all those bags of cement and piles of bricks will need to be ferried in on Norfolk Green’s buses. Roof racks will have to be fitted to take the steel piles which will hold up the flats so that they don’t sink into the silt.
Not really. A traffic control order specifies which vehicles are permitted to use the road and it clearly bans all motor vehicles other than buses. So that’s alright. Well, it is until the borough applies to have the order varied to include mobile cement mixers, articulated lorries, dumper trucks and compressors… all, of course, in pursuit of the vision for a new King’s Lynn, and, it has to be said, a very neat way of getting the government to fund the marina access road.
So, is the Doorstep Green out of danger?
For the time being, yes. But it would not do to heave too big a sigh of relief. The small group of councillors driving this project are determined to see it go through. They have made it clear that no protest will be brooked, no argument will be accepted, no advice will be heeded and, no opposition will go untrampled.
It is a sad reflection that it has taken a national recession, with all the social and economic pain which that entails to derail what must be one of the most foolhardy schemes ever contemplated by any local authority anywhere.
The recession has turned out to be a shield, for the time being anyway, from the worst excesses planned at King’s Court. And if delay does extend to 10 years there is time for at least two borough elections — one of them in May 2011 — in the interim. There is a breathing space and if Lynn is to survive as the Lynn its people know, they had best take advantage of it.
Locals Propose Alternative Scheme for the Lynn Marina
Read the full details of the proposals on our News page here
Marina scheme takes a hammering
Lynn’s waterfront regeneration scheme is not very popular with people who would live within walking distance of it; the fact that as at present conceived it would also lead to the destruction of the Harding’s Pits Doorstep Green is arousing even greater public hostility.
That much became clear from a public meeting arranged (12th June) by the Harding’s Pits Community Association Ltd. which manages the Green. Around 150 people, mostly local, packed into the hall of Whitefriars School to discuss their concerns about the social, financial and environmental issues which the planned diversion of the River Nar and residential development on the Green will have for their communities.
Roger Turff, HPCA secretary, says that speaker after speaker castigated the present plans which are designed to pave the way for the borough council’s waterfront regeneration project.
“It’s quite clear from this meeting that local people are very angry about both the loss of the Green and about the marina plan itself,” he says. “They like the Green and they want to keep it. As for the marina, more would approve of that if it was not so grandiose and so costly. As it is, they fear the venture will become a white elephant which will be very expensive to feed.”
He says critical comments came thick and fast when the floor of the meeting was thrown open for discussion. Concerns were expressed about the loss of valuable open space at a time when massive expansion of the town’s population is forecast, the failure of the town’s political leaders to listen to widespread public disquiet about the viability of their marina plans and fears that the regeneration scheme has not been properly thought through. Ideas for alternative marina developments had been dismissed out of hand, it was said.
Consideration was also given to means by which the borough could be persuaded to think again if not have a complete change of mind. Several speakers urged strong opposition at the outline planning stage, now due for early August, while a letter writing campaign and a protest march through the town were favoured suggestions for forcing council leaders to pay attention to public opinion.
The alternative site for an open space, being promoted by the council at the public consultation sessions it has been holding, was condemned as unacceptable because of its proximity to a main road, remoteness from the residential areas of South Lynn and the Friars and the presence of a sewage pumping station which cannot be removed. It would also be partly composed of grassed river banks offering a sterile habitat to wildlife.
“It’s a pity that those borough councillors most involved in promoting this particular scheme for regenerating the King’s Lynn waterfront were not present,” said Mr Turff. “They were invited but it appears that those who know very much about the scheme were not available and its other political supporters, despite the fact that they all voted for it last February, don’t know enough about it to explain it to anyone else. Fortunately there were some borough councillors there and no doubt they will be reminding their colleagues of the need to pay attention to public opinion. This scheme really must not be allowed to go ahead in its present form.”
The meeting voted unanimously in favour of a resolution addressed to Natural England and to the borough council that the covenant which protects the Green from development, and which the council wants Natural England to revoke, should be honoured in full and for the full period of 25 years from 2004.
For further information please contact: Roger Turff, 01553-764422