'Disney World for the Broads'

A �300m conference and tourism complex featuring 8,000 hotel rooms and the largest convention centre in the UK could be built on farmland near Norfolk's new eco town.

A �300m conference and tourism complex featuring 8,000 hotel rooms and the largest convention centre in the UK could be built on farmland near Norfolk's new eco town.

It would swallow up more than four square kilometres of land around Rackheath, Woodbastwick and Salhouse and could include two golf courses, an outdoor stage for open air events and a new dual carriageway.

The ambitious plans were criticised as a “Disney World” for the Broads, though the London architects and planners who have created the vision said hundreds of jobs would be created and the complex would be unique in the UK through its combination of conference centre and tourist attraction.

Named the Norfolk Hub, an initial plan has been submitted to Broadland District Council.

Information is available online but campaigners at Stop Norwich Urbanisation (Snub) say it is not easily accessible, with hardly anyone aware of its existence and a fast-approaching deadline of early September for comments.

Matthew Wintersgill, architect behind the plan, said the concept was not set in stone but the idea of creating a combination of conferencing and tourism was its great strength because there was nothing like it currently in existence.

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“The idea is that the two things work together in synergy,” said Mr Wintersgill. “Can it work? Absolutely.

“Norfolk has always been a backwater in economic terms. This would transform it.”

Mr Wintersgill said anyone wanting to organise a major event in this country was forced to use urban options such as Birmingham or London - the difference with Norfolk was its added value of beautiful surroundings.

Campaigners bent on opposing the complex alongside the fight against the Rackheath eco town said last night it would change the nature of the area beyond recognition.

“It will totally destroy Woodbastwick and Salhouse, this whole part of Broadland,” said David Hastings, Snub member and past chairman of Broadland District Council who lives at Salhouse.

“It will simply be a Disney World on the Broads. There are already grave concerns about the lack of water in this particular part of the country, how can you build something like this when such key infrastructure is already struggling?

“We are hugely concerned people are not aware of what is being put forward. I have asked many in Rackheath, Salhouse and Woodbastwick if they know about it and they say 'what are you talking about?'

“Something as big as this should already have been the subject of a public meeting, whatever stage it is at.”

Fellow Snub member Stewart Lindsay said: “It's frightening how information like this can be on websites, allowing the authorities to claim it is in the public domain, yet no one knows it's there.

“We live in one of the last bastions of England and this kind of plan, badly publicised as it is, will destroy what is left.”

Whether the scheme comes to fruition remains unclear, with Mr Wintersgill explaining that several other sites had been considered and a small number would continue to be potentially in the frame, but the site near Rackheath looked to be “the most promising so far”.

He said an anonymous potential funder was in place.

An estimated build time of around five years, plus a pre-build time of at least two or three years would mean there was a minimum of seven or eight years before completion.

He conceded the recession was a factor but because it was such a long term scheme there was hope the plan would “go over the top” of the recession.

Simon Woodbridge, Broadland Council leader, said he had no personal view on the plan, but added: “There will be a rigorous assessment. People need to make their views known about whether it is excessive or proportionate and if it has value for generating jobs.”

Angi Doy, the council's communications manager, said: “We are working through a communications campaign to raise awareness of the consultation as we want the public to have their say.

“We have provided parish councils in all the areas where a site has been proposed with site maps and posters promoting the consultation and have asked them to display these on their notice boards.”

The information was also on the council's mobile information centre and libraries in Aylsham, Wroxham and Norwich.

A Norfolk County Council spokesman said they were aware of the proposal, adding: “It is for the developers to make the case for the scheme in the context of the joint core strategy for the greater Norwich area.”

Information about the scheme can be found at Broadland District Council's website under the dedicated pages for 'site allocations - public consultation on new potential development sites (July-September 2009)'.