Steering group urges community to help shape future of Bawsey Pits beauty spot

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Members of a steering group formed to oversee the development of plans for Bawsey Pits have urged local people to help them shape its future.

The Bawsey Lakes Futures Group was unveiled during a public meeting called to outline the results of a recent consultation on the site where a man and a teenager drowned almost a year ago.

And people attending the meeting, held at the Sandboy pub on Thursday, were encouraged to join any of five sub-committees designed to examine specific issues.

But, while they hope to present proposals for the area early next year, officials insist any scheme will have to accord with the aspirations expressed in the survey.

Group member Nigel Canham said the vast majority of more than 600 people who responded to the survey had been clear in calling for an “enhanced country park” that was safe for everyone to enjoy.

He added: “People feel it has massive potential to serve the area better than it does at the moment.”

As previously reported, around 80 per cent of participants in the consultation called for provision for walking and outdoor activities, with only slightly lower support for watersports including angling.

Ideas including barbecue areas, a farm shop and eco lodges also attracted significant support, while only a small minority said they wanted the site to remain unaltered.

The survey also revealed that 80 per cent of respondents would be willing to pay to park at the site if the money was invested in the area.

But, with more than one in 10 saying they no longer use the site because of its poor reputation, the meeting was told that drugs and needles were often found among rubbish left behind there.

During the session, volunteers were sought to join five sub-committees, which will examine ways in which the site could be used commercially, for conservation, water sports, land-based leisure activities and education, social and health provisions.

It is hoped that the groups will deliver their findings later this year, with a view to a public exhibition of proposals being held early in the new year and a planning application potentially following later in 2015.

There was criticism from one resident who accused the site’s owners, Sibelco, of “passing the buck” instead of developing a solution.

But the steering group maintained that any development must have community support, insisting that ideas which do not match what local people want will not go forward.

Group chairman Andy Parker said: “We want to make the area enjoyable for as many people as possible.”

The steering group is comprised of local community leaders and representatives of the site’s owners, Sibelco.

Mr Parker, who is a member of the Leziate parish council, said the committee had come together following the deaths of 41-year-old Ryan Pettengell and Umar Balogun, who was 16, at the site in July last year.

He added: “We are committed to insuring no repeat of this event should ever occur.”

Sibelco’s resources director Gary Stringer, who is also a steering group member, also insisted that the gates to the site will remain closed until a long-term plan for the area had been found, in order to minimise the risk of another tragedy.

He said his position was supported by the emergency services and added: “That is non-negotiable as far as I am concerned.”