Breydon Lagoona plan dead in the water

By PEGGOTTYWHENEVER I read of another scheme for commercialising Breydon Water, the word “lagoona” always springs to mind. It is a word that probably means nothing to most residents of the Great Yarmouth district, but it provoked a furore in the late Sixties before being shelved as one of those “pie in the sky” non-events.


WHENEVER I read of another scheme for commercialising Breydon Water, the word “lagoona” always springs to mind. It is a word that probably means nothing to most residents of the Great Yarmouth district, but it provoked a furore in the late Sixties before being shelved as one of those “pie in the sky” non-events.

The so-called Breydon Lagoona plan was one of the biggest, and might well dwarf the latest - a multi-million-pound Cobholm development including marina, hundreds of homes, shops and leisure facilities on 22 acres of derelict land, predicted to bring up to 100 jobs and a massive injection of cash to the local economy from visiting yachtsmen. Detailed plans are expected within the next year.

In the late 1960s I was assigned to meet two men announcing a major addition to Norfolk's amenities in general and Yarmouth's in particular. They represented Heli Hover Marine Developments that devised the Breydon Recreational and Cultural Centre.

The research credentials were swiftly undermined when one said the England football team might be booked to play regularly at the core of the project - a 25,000 seat multi-use stadium with artificial grass and part-opening roof designed to become a regional sports centre.

That consortium member was surprised but not deterred when I stated that international football did not work like that, and his stadium with comparatively meagre capacity would not suffice...

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The Heli Hover launch document conceded: “Whilst it is unlikely that Breydon itself could house the Olympic Games, it is intended to construct a comprehensive indoor training centre for all sportsmen and women”. Whereas the stadium was aimed “at the professional and world-class amateur where spectator needs have to be met, the sports centre would be mainly concerned with amateur needs and family requirements.”

There would be an Olympic-size swimming pool with separate diving and learner pools. Another area could be flooded and frozen for ice-hockey and skating competitions. There was a store to keep earth to surface the floor for equestrianism and circuses. Flexibility permitted a stage for massed bands, speakers at congresses and rallies, and major exhibitions and shows - with television facilities for all events.

The only outdoor amenities were a six-lane bowls rink and grass tennis courts, but under cover there would be tennis, badminton, archery, bowls, ice-rink, billiards, squash, boxing, fencing, gymnastics, basketball, handball and netball, some on multi-purpose courts. Under the one roof would be tuition, plus coffee bars, restaurants, children's nursery, dancing, social assemblies...

A one-kilometre rowing course was proposed. As for boats, the promoters claimed their marina was not intended to exacerbate Broads congestion by attracting hire and private craft, but was geared for sea-going vessels, of which 3,000 could be accommodated.

Heli Hover was keen to create a man-made flood-safe island on Breydon mudflats while preserving the wildlife that haunts them.

In addition to sports provision there would be a huge cultural facility incorporating 600-seat theatre, three cinemas, assembly hall, art galleries and museum, teaching and artists' studios, plus an open-air theatre, residential apartments, hotels/motels of various grades for 2000 guests, restaurants and bars, churches, shops, hovercraft terminal, Venetian-style canals with water-taxi transport.

“In providing this complex of buildings, it is envisaged that Breydon will become a major festival centre for the arts in the county, and the developers believe that the offer of facilities, hotels, reception rooms and ancillary entertainments in an attractive water-based setting will ensure its success,” said the brochure.

Breydon was chosen for the development because it would add to Yarmouth's attractions and entice even more holidaymakers to the resort, was accessible from the Acle New Road (“although this has at the moment a single carriageway, it will without doubt in due course be improved to provide a fast link to Norwich and, from there, to other East Anglian towns”), had a nearby railway station (with the possibility of a halt being built for visitors to the Breydon complex) and a small airport not too distant.

And it stressed: “The site... destroys no agricultural land or resources of value - the whole area would be reclaimed form tidal mud with very little disturbance of adjoining users.”

Heli Hover insisted that it had done its homework and the development was feasible, and the money was available. I cannot recall, four decades on, if a figure was ever made public.

Conservationists, planners, Breydon lovers and other opponents were harsh in their criticism. The Heli Hover brainchild was debated for some time before it quietly died, or perhaps was placed in the back of a drawer for resurrection one day. In 2007, the new super-Breydon plan is being prepared in detail.

I am reminded of the comment made by the mother of 21-year-old Yarmouth athlete Anne Pashley, who accompanied her to Melbourne in Australia where her daughter won a silver medal in the 4x100 metre sprint relay in the 1956 Olympic Games. On reaching home again, Mrs Pashley told the Mercury: “The view over Breydon Water was the prettiest from here to Australia.”

Ever prophetic, Peggotty has long kept an eye on Breydon. In 1946 my predecessor wrote: “Breydon Water, I imagine, is rarely given a second thought by the majority of Yarmouth people but I am constantly finding that strangers to the district are greatly intrigued by this great space of water on the town's doorstep.

“Anyone who has been travelling by train from Norwich to Yarmouth in company with strangers will notice how their interest is aroused as soon as the train starts to pass by the eastern walls. Only this week I had this experience when a visitor from the Midlands, attracted by the picturesque sight of the sun shining across the water, asked me to tell him all about it.

“He was surprised when I had to tell him that Breydon has not yet been put to any particular use and suggested that it might make a find inland basin for shipping. A similar remark was made to me during the war by an American airman who declared: 'Gee! If we had that, we would do something with it.'

Yarmouth people have, of course, debated the possibility of converting this stretch of water to a useful purpose but generally arguments about tides and dredging etc have been brought up against suggestions that it might be used for shipping or as a seaplane base. As far as I know, expert opinion has never been sought as to its possibilities.

“I remember Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce debating the matter many years ago at one of its annual meetings but nothing very practical came out of the discussion.

“I am sure that that hardy race of Breydoners who earned a living wildfowling on this water would have protested vigorously against any interference with its natural state, but this race is dying out and I have heard of late a number of suggestions that it is time a real attempt was made to discover whether Breydon has any commercial advantages which might be of value to Yarmouth.”