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“A fire this big could have had a major impact” - police probe continues over Pontins fire

PUBLISHED: 17:15 20 August 2018 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 August 2018

The damage to the old Pontins site in Hemsby. Pictures: Mick Howes

The damage to the old Pontins site in Hemsby. Pictures: Mick Howes

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Investigations are continuing around the derelict former Pontins holiday park in Hemsby after it was hit by a devastating arson attack.

In the early hours of Saturday flames ripped through the park’s reception area, leading to its roof collapsing as 90 firefighters tackled the blaze.

As the crews received praise for their work, people living in the area said the incident did not come as a surprise.

Today the site was locked up, with demolition work having been completed on Sunday by Anglian Demoltion and Asbestos Ltd, which also dealt with the aftermath of the Marram homes erosion crisis in the village earlier this year.

Police have also carried out house-to-house enquiries and to check if there was any CCTV footage capturing the dramatic incident on tape.

Five Norfolk fires remain on the scene following the blaze, being investigated as arson, at the derelict former Pontins site in Hemsby. Pictures: Mick HowesFive Norfolk fires remain on the scene following the blaze, being investigated as arson, at the derelict former Pontins site in Hemsby. Pictures: Mick Howes

The Hemsby Action Group has been fighting to make sure landowners Northern Trust keep the derelict site secure and wants it to be turned into a new tourism use site, instead of plans to turn it a development with 190 homes.

Kim McAdoo, group chairman, said: “This doesn’t come as a surprise really. The site has been left derelict for years. We frequently report trespassers on site as there are large gaps in the fence, but the police are too stretched to go out there all the time. We call 101 as well as reporting it to the council but nothing seems to get done.

“It was only a matter of time, and the cash-strapped council will have to foot the bill. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the site being in this state is putting people’s lives in danger.

“It’s 22 acres worth of land and backs onto a lot of properties. A fire this big could have had a major impact.”

Hemsby fire and demolition. Picture: Victoria Pertusa
Hemsby fire and demolition. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

In February Northern Trust revealed plans for 190 homes and shops to be constructed on the site as well as the installation of static caravans.

A Norfolk police spokesman said officers carried out house to house enquiries and were searching for CCTV footage yesterday as the force’s investigation into the arson incident continued, with no arrests made.

Anyone with information on the arson attack should call Norfolk Police on 101, quoting reference 28 of August 18. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The firefighters who tackled the massive blaze at the former Pontins holiday park site have been thanked by Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis.

Saturday’s major incident saw 90 firefighters from across the region called in to tackle the fire.

Mr Lewis said: “I would like to thank every firefighter who was involved in this large operation. Once again their quick action helped to keep our community safe. It is important to stress, especially to tourists, that Hemsby is still open for business.”

Mr Lewis claimed that the incident, one of too many over recent years, said it highlighted the need to bring the site into use.

He added: “It is esential that a long term solution is found for this site. This site if used properly could be a fantastic addition to the local area and tourism.”

Mr Lewis has asked owners Northern Trust if they had interest from other firms for tourism use of the site.

Northern Trust were asked for a comment on the arson but did not reply.

Site history

For more than 30 years guests at Pontins in Hemsby were entertained by Blue Coats.

The original nine acre holiday camp was opened in 1920 and was known as Maddiesons Hemsby Holiday Camp.

Owned by Harry Maddieson, he and his family ran it for more than 50 years until it was sold to Pontins in 1971.

The 22-acre camp could accommodate up to 2,440 holidaymakers in 50 onsite buildings.

It closed in January 2009 with the loss of 55 jobs, following a review from Pontins’ new owners Ocean Parks.

The site was sold to developer Northern Trust, which still owns it.

In 2013 the company spruced up the derelict site after negotiations with the borough council.

The camp had a reception and information centre, amusement arcade, fast food outlet, play area, an entertainment hall seating 1,700, a smaller hall accommodating 800 and a shop.

There was also an indoor swimming pool, a pub, snooker rooms, tennis courts, adventure playground and go-karting track.

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