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Fears over West Norfolk holiday site season extension bids

Proposals which would allow four holiday sites along the West Norfolk coast to extend their seasons will go before councillors next week.

Officials have advised that the facilities in Heacham and Hunstanton are given the green light to welcome holidaymakers for longer, until the end of next year, as part of the economic recovery from coronavirus.

But critics claim the schemes risk triggering further surges in infections.

Searles Leisure Resort in Hunstanton is among the holiday businesses which lost months of trade due to coronavirus.
Searles Leisure Resort in Hunstanton is among the holiday businesses which lost months of trade due to coronavirus.

The applications, which are due to go before the borough council's planning committee next Monday, May 17, relate to the Searles Holiday Park in Hunstanton, plus three sites in Heacham - the Putting Green and Riverside caravan parks, both on Jubilee Road, and the North Beach caravan park

Each proposal seeks permission for a temporary use of land for the siting of caravans as holiday accommodation beyond normal seasonal limits until December 31, 2022.

The sites have all lost months of trade as a result of the various lockdowns imposed during the coronavirus crisis.

And separate reports on each application have highlighted government guidance, issued last summer, which said councils should not take enforcement action against sites which seek to extend their seasons until then.

In a summary of its case, Heacham Holidays, which runs each of the three Heacham sites which are subject of the applications, said: "The proposed season extensions can be considered sustainable development that will have economic and social benefits and will not adversely affect the environment."

Meanwhile, Searles insisted it did not intend to introduce a winter season, as much of its complex can already be used during much of that period under its existing licences.

But, while the Hunstanton town council is supporting the Searles proposal, Heacham's parish council has objected to all four schemes.

It says it appreciates the economic reasons for the applications, but argued that "environmental and human factors", including flood risks from both tides and excess rainfall, should take priority.

The council said: "Seasonal restrictions are due to newer flood risk assessments by the EA (Environment Agency). The seasonal restrictions have been in place for many years based on lower figures.

"The risk is now much greater, making less sense than ever for this change.

"If an extension to the season goes through at this time, then there will be fewer grounds for argument next year and in subsequent years. These greater risks may endanger lives."

The parish authority also highlighted the role of one of the village's ward councillors, and soon to be borough council leader, Stuart Dark, in driving down Covid infections.

It said: "One of our Borough Councillors got an MBE for his good work with the Covid Crisis.

"It would be a shame for him if our levels of infection went higher because of the wrong decision in his own Ward."

Public opinion on the Heacham applications also appears divided, though the reports suggested a narrow majority were supportive of the schemes.

And, while they acknowledged the applications were "sensitive" and "finely balanced", planning officials concluded the potential economic benefits outweighed the possible risks.

The report said: "Government changes have been introduced to help the nation recover from the devastating economic losses witnesses during the pandemic so far.

"By supporting this proposal it would go some way to assisting local businesses through the potential in increased spending power of the additional visitors.

"In a borough where tourism is such an important economic function, the benefits of the proposal upon the local economy are a key consideration that is part of the planning balance."

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