Downham Market residents welcome £350 million science hub proposal

Downham Market public consultation on new Science Hub. FltoR John Beer. Peter Twist. ANL-160804-163623009
Downham Market public consultation on new Science Hub. FltoR John Beer. Peter Twist. ANL-160804-163623009
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Residents have broadly backed plans for a new £350 million technology centre proposed for the outskirts of Downham.

Downham Development Ltd outlined its plans for the Centre for Advanced Knowledge Engineering (CfAKE) during a two-day consultation.

Up to 4,600 new permanent jobs and 1,500 temporary construction positions could be created at the former RAF Downham site in Bexwell Road.

The plans include a mixture of educational and commercial buildings along with a hotel, museum, halls of residence and a new access from the A10.

The plans received a warm reaction, though some concerns were expressed during the consultation in Downham Town Hall on Friday and Saturday.

Pam Sharp, a former councillor, feels the bid would help the town attract younger people.

She said: “I think it is a good thing for the town, especially for the young people.

“At the moment, they finish college and go off to Cambridge or London. They need something to keep them local.”

Town councillor Malcolm Starreveld wants the town to be developed in a holistic way.

He said: “I think the centre is a good thing for Downham and I just hope it goes ahead.

“My only concern is how is it going to be integrated with other developments planned for the area and how the town is going to cope with the growth.”

And Mac Pooley said he was a little sceptical about the project and raised concerns about the funding.

He said: “Basically I think it is great but I do have one or two reservations.

“It has got to be done properly and not just put up and left for Downham to sort.

“We have a shortage of school places, parking doctors and dentists etc.”

But Richard James was impressed with the development and feels it will offer youngsters a career path from school to work.

He said: “I think it is fantastic and it would be very fortunate to have it in Downham.

“When you live in a rural area you have to move or commute, to have something like this on your doorstep would give young people hope.”

The man behind the plan is John Beer, who first spoke to the Lynn News about the plans two years ago, and was pleased with the public’s response during the consultation.

He said: “I think the reaction has been really positive.

“It is fantastic to see it take shape and to tell people what’s happening.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want this place to become heaven’s waiting room and we don’t want to be a suburb of Cambridge.

“But we do want to be part of the Cambridge phenomenon.”

Regeneration investment company Aventa is involved in the project.

Investment director Peter Twist said there has been a lot of work gone into the project over the last two-and-a-half years and hopes it will raise aspirations.

He is also pleased that the plans would create jobs but warned that they will be phased in and not appear on day one.

And he said Network Rail have told the firm they are committed to having two trains an hour serve the town from next year, despite continuing concerns over delays to the proposed upgrade of the Ely north junction and the wait for longer trains.

Mr Twist said: “The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“There have been grumbles but we want to hear these as they are going to how shape how we address them and how we can make things better.

“I don’t see why Downham can’t benefit from the activity going on in the rest of East Anglia and further south.”