‘Scandalous’ – Council under fire over plans to build near Norfolk war site
PUBLISHED: 07:06 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 07:06 14 March 2019
It was built to defend Norfolk from the Nazis – but now this rare gun battery is under attack from the county council’s development plans, according to heritage campaigners.
The Second World War anti-aircraft gun emplacement at Mautby, near Great Yarmouth, is regarded as the best example of its kind in the country.
But this priceless piece of wartime heritage sparked a planning battle after landowner Norfolk County Council (NCC) applied for permission to build a large barn and hardstanding for a wood processing business on part of the site.
The authority was instructed to re-locate an existing tenant from its County Farms estate in the same village, after the Local Government Ombudsman criticised the council for allowing the use of farmland for wood processing, causing an “injustice” for neighbours who complained about the noise.
NCC’s initial application for the new site at Decoy Wood was revised after part of the eastern section – containing the remnants of concrete gun mounts, ammunition stores and a command post – was protected as a Scheduled Monument.
The council says its current plans will have no “material impact” on the historic buildings, as the proposed 42x20m barn and storage areas are outside the scheduled area.
But campaigners say it would affect the “setting and ambience” of the gun battery and, as the archaeological interest extends beyond the monument, the whole site should be preserved as a public heritage asset.
Steve Short, who lives opposite the site, said: “It is scandalous. This monument is a public heritage asset and the county council has got a duty of care and respect for it. Instead they are hellbent on destroying all the archaeology on the site that is outside the scheduled area – which is complete and utter negligence.
“All the woodland here is full of archeology. It has sat here for 70 years, but no-one has really explored it properly so with the development of the site there is potential to lose archaeology forever that we don’t even know exists at the moment.
“This whole site, as far as I am concerned, should be protected from development. Instead of selling it and developing it, my belief is that the council should be cherishing it, developing it for special and educational needs and keeping it for future generations – not using it as a short-term measure to relocate a problematic logging site.”
Another villager, Bill Smith, who lives about 30 yards from the edge of the site, added: “Is this Norfolk County Council’s way of celebrating 100 years of the RAF, by desecrating a national scheduled monument that they have responsibility for?”
Dean Hewitt, a neighbouring NCC tenant farmer, said the plans could cost him £2,000 because he would lose the ability to farm a piece of land and the use of a concrete pad for sugar beet storage.
The application is being made by Norfolk County Council, but it will be decided by Great Yarmouth Borough Council. A planning statement submitted on behalf of the county council says: “The design, siting and nature of the proposal (including continuing to use existing hardstanding areas for timber storage) will not harm the monument setting and lead to no material impact on the remaining structures’ setting, especially as the extensive woodland has removed any visual connection.”
A Norfolk County Council spokesman added: “The majority of the Second World War site sits outside the planning application area, except for a small section of existing access track. We will continue to oversee the Second World War site and will provide public access through heritage open days.”
The council has agreed to sell the proposed development site to the tenant if the plans are approved – but the spokesman said this would not include the area covered by the Scheduled Monument, which is currently unlet.
An archaeological assessment by Dr James Albone for Norfolk’s environment service says the gun battery at Mautby was likely to have been established in 1943 and decommissioned shortly after 1946.
The site comprised four square gun emplacements, a command post, domestic and administrative buildings, a sewage treatment plant and connecting access track.
The report says the site at Decoy Wood represents “a rare survival of the complete layout of a Second World War HAA (heavy anti-aircraft) gun battery”, with rare mid-war gun emplacements which are “demonstrably the best-preserved and most complete examples in England”.
It also says the site would benefit from “comprehensive archaeological recording and a full condition survey covering all of the surviving elements”.