This is the first Lynn News on a Tuesday since December 20, resulting in the longest break for Turnstone since my column first appeared in January 2010.
However, my association with this newspaper goes back much further. On January 15 1971 I was one of nearly 400 local residents at a meeting in the town hall at which members and officers of Hunstanton Urban District Council (HUDC) attempted to justify taking out a loan to build a leisure centre. The cost of this scheme would have resulted in repayments of £132,000 per annum over a period of 125 years.
It has been argued that this would have been good value for money, because with local government reorganisation due to take effect in 1974, the cost would soon have been shared by ratepayers across the whole of west Norfolk. Spokesmen for HUDC did not make too much of this theory in 1971, because it might have weakened their argument that the leisure centre would pay for itself and not result in higher rates for local residents.
It was largely because a majority of residents feared their domestic rates would rise if the scheme went ahead that a Ratepayers and Residents Association was formed in an attempt to force HUDC to wait until after the forthcoming elections before going ahead. When the Lynn News published letters from some of the residents in attendance at the meeting, it became clear that it was not just the cost that concerned Hunstanton residents.
One such letter came from a certain John Maiden who at that time lived in Ramsay Gardens. Under the headline: They really believe in leisure centre ‘North Sea Bubble’, I criticised the scheme for a number of reasons, but was particularly scathing when it came to the proposed facilities for swimming within the ‘bubble’. This is what I wrote: “The heated swimming pool is not going to be heated by anything other than the sun’s rays, and, according to Mr Legge - one time chairman of Hunstanton Swimming Club – it is not going to be for swimming! He preferred the term bathing. I would like to know how it is to be of use to the children of Hunstanton: (a) during the winter months; (b) for learning to swim; (c) for learning the life saving methods of the Royal Life Saving Society; and (d) for playing water polo.”
The answers to these questions were not forthcoming, because the ‘bubble’ burst the following month when commonsense prevailed and HUDC decided not to proceed in the face of widespread public opposition. This strength of feeling manifested itself at the May 1971 elections, when four councillors who had supported the scheme lost their seats to members of the Ratepayers and Residents Association.
What lessons can be learned from this failure in public consultation? Well, when Mr A Jones of Clarence Road, asked if it was possible to have a referendum, Mr Legge replied that the difficulty with a referendum was that people often did not know the true facts and were not in a position to judge the issue! Now that strikes a chord. If more people had been given the facts about what would happen if they voted leave, perhaps they would have thought twice.
Closer to home, if the Oasis really is nearing the end of its useful life, perhaps it is time to consult local people on when and how it should be replaced. And if there are serious plans to move the memorial to 31 victims of the 1953 Floods, it is surely time to consult the survivors and relatives of those who lost their lives.
More on this story next week…