'The landowner should pay' - shock figures reveal string of fires at former Pontins site
PUBLISHED: 16:56 19 June 2019 | UPDATED: 17:23 19 June 2019
Shocking figures revealing the number of fires taking hold at a derelict holiday camp have prompted angry calls for the landowner to foot the bill and clear the site.
Details disclosed in a freedom of information request by this newspaper show Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service were called to 14 fires at Pontins in Hemsby, all in the last five years.
The most serious was in August last year when 90 firefighters battled a blaze at the main clubhouse of the 2,440-capacity holiday park. A number of firefighters remained on site for several days.
The cost to the taxpayer is likely to run into thousands with a single, basic, call-out said to cost around £300. Some of the blazes have seen up to 15 pumps respond.
Nine of the fires at the site were classed as "primary", the most serious category, with many of the alerts coming in the early hours of the morning.
None were reported in the first seven years after it closed in 2008, with the first call-out in September 2015.
There were five fires in 2016, one in 2017, and five in 2018.
So far this year there have been two, in May and June.
James Bensly, whose borough council ward includes the site, said the area was in a disgraceful state and that owners Northern Trust should be made to pay for the emergency response and bulldoze the remaining buildings.
He was concerned that firefighters tied up at the site would be unavailable for other emergencies.
"The land owner should pay," he said. "I could go down there now and find holes in the fence and get in there easily."
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A Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said it did not bill landowners.
A statement said: "We have met with the site owners to discuss a range of concerns about the site, including the security of the perimeter fencing and ability for people to gain access to the site, vandalism, and arson.
"As a derelict site, it's not subject to the normal fire safety rules and regulations for buildings which are suitable for occupation. So it's also not subject to any associated enforcement processes."
Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth, said: "I have long held the view that the owners of the former Pontins site in Hemsby have let the local community down, and these figures are sadly no surprise.
"I would support the borough council exploring every avenue of possible enforcement action to ensure that the site is kept safe."
Many in Hemsby want the site kept for tourism, while others are happy to give it over to housing.
The land is currently designated for holiday use.
A revised application for its redevelopment was submitted last year showing a mix of housing and holiday use. It has yet to come before committee members at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, but officials say they are looking to set a date.
The site has been subject to two enforcement notices issued by the borough council which have been complied with, the landowner paying for the work.
The land was designated in 2001 by the borough council's local plan as a primary holiday accommodation area and the landowners Northern Trust said they marketed the site as such but a tourism buyer was not found.
As early as October 2009, villagers were being consulted on plans for new homes.
An option for between 150 and 200 homes was put forward, as well as a 40-bed care home, a new village library, retaining the old pool and a pub.
More recently a proposal was launched for a veteran's village with the man behind the scheme saying in April he was "making progress."
Northern Trust has been approached for a comment.