It’s good to see that a planning application is due to be submitted within weeks for what may prove to be one of the most significant and positive developments in West Norfolk for years.
The Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering, an educational and business hub proposed for the former RAF Downham, has many obvious immediate benefits – 4,600 permanent jobs with a further 1,500 construction jobs – but its significance in the longer term really cannot be over-emphasised.
Aventa Capital Partners is hoping to start work on the £170 million project in the autumn and the aim is to transform the 70-acre site over the next three years.
Plans for the site include 10 commercial and research buildings, a conference centre along with the Institute of Data Science building, which will house 300 students, and a business incubator centre.
The centre aims to raise aspirations and bridge the skills gap in interpreting the masses of data which is produced in a range of industries. The College of West Anglia will be involved and there are hopes for a new building for Downham Academy.
Now something that brings the promise of well-paid jobs and skilled training opportunities into the heart of West Norfolk seems almost too good to be true – but the more you look at the project, the more you realise the implications.
For as good as this looks, it will surely, in the long term, be seen as just a start – although the word “just” hardly seems appropriate.
What is clear is that, for once, West Norfolk has the opportunity to be in at the start of something that promises to develop into a really big future. Once the centre is established, it will more than likely draw in companies from far and wide – and we are talking the whole world.
When you consider how close Downham is to the country’s hi-tech boom city of Cambridge, plus the handy rail links to London and the major airports, as well as its nearness to Norwich, it’s not difficult to see what a tempting location it is likely to become.
And the beauty of it for the rest of us in West Norfolk is that it is in easy commuting distance for Lynn, Swaffham and a whole host of surrounding villages. It raises the prospect of good jobs for our young people to aspire to – surely no bad thing.
Sometimes all you need is one major project to be the catalyst to propel an area into a prosperous future, and this could be The Big One for Downham, and lots of other people living within a radius of 15-20 miles.
In the ’70s Peterborough attracted the jobs. Then it was Cambridge. Now Downham looks set to benefit. It’s a new order, and West Norfolk can make the most of it.