Grand vision consigned to never-never land

UNSPOILED: naturalist Robin Harrison in his wildfowler's punt in 1969 leaving his Lapwing retreat on

UNSPOILED: naturalist Robin Harrison in his wildfowler's punt in 1969 leaving his Lapwing retreat on Breydon Water where a developer planned a controversial major leisure complex. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Anybody with a grand vision for guiding the Great Yarmouth area towards a bright and prosperous future, restoring us to our long-gone position as brand leader, deserves a hearing and encouragement. All too often, however, these turn out to be over-elaborate, impractical and outrageously expensive and, after the initial hype and euphoria, are consigned to never-never land.

BOLD VISION: an artist's impression of the Breydon Lagoona scheme. Picture: SUBMITTED

BOLD VISION: an artist's impression of the Breydon Lagoona scheme. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

One hopes that these promoters are sufficiently worldly-wise and thick-skinned to anticipate that the odds are against their suggestions achieving fruition.

Anders Larson, an Austria-based writer who is the grandson of the late George Scott - prominent Yarmouth hotelier, tourism campaigner, borough councillor and Mayor – has recently produced a bold scheme for improvements aimed at recapturing our regional prominence, upgrading our infrastructure, attracting investment and halting further decline.

He does not see the dualling of the Acle Straight as the big solution, but emphasises the necessity of investment in our infrastructure and links to the region. One idea is s a light rail or tram system connecting key areas of the town and eventually leading to Norwich, a scheme he believes would help to attract investment, interest, foot-traffic and “commercial dynamism and regeneration.”

Overall, he maintains that “it is a remarkably simple idea, one that carries the potential for profound and deep-lasting consequences for Yarmouth viability and future.” But, he emphasises, investment is crucial.

ON THE BUS: Yarmouth mayor George Scott and his wife, grandparents of Anders Larson who is suggesti

ON THE BUS: Yarmouth mayor George Scott and his wife, grandparents of Anders Larson who is suggesting a major development to boost the borough, with actor Stephen Lewis (Inspector “Blakey”), starring in the Windmill summer show, at the launch of a tourism bus on Church Plain in the 1970s. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Full marks for enthusiasm and vision in a bid to promote and improve the town where his mother still lives, but cynical older Yarmouthians will probably counter with the fact that we’ve still got the T-shirts handed out with previous well-meaning ideas aimed at benefiting their promoters and the borough but which are filed away in folder marked “Pie in the Sky.”

Local journalists have spent hours absorbing, assessing and writing about grandiose plans the originators guaranteed would bring prosperity and change our home town for the better, but became non-starters, usually because of impracticality or cost.

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And when you think of the years it took to secure the Breydon Bridge to untangle our traffic gridlock, for example, are huge investments in the public or private sector likely in these cash-strapped and bureaucratic times? Will the third river crossing, currently in the news, materialise?

I have an old Mercury cutting reporting that “a new £25 million broad near Yarmouth could be ready in time to play a part in the 2012 (London) Olympics.” Wishful thinking!

That was one of many, most of which were ambitious but doomed projects aimed at holidaymakers. Here are some others: an elevated monorail from North Denes to Harbour’s Mouth; flying-saucer shaped leisure and entertainments building on the site of the present Marina Centre; five-star hotel (Pleasure Beach owners); cross-river Yarmouth-Gorleston cable-car (corporation transport department, 1960s and 1986); tramway linking sea-front, heritage areas and town centre (borough council); redundant air-liner as cafe in sea-front Nelson Gardens (Mike Varney, retired royal bodyguard, 1974)...

But the most comprehensive and costly of them all was a wow-factor visionary and imaginative project for Breydon Water, potentially a huge undertaking; if memory serves me a-right, I was the reporter who broke the story in 1968. Heli-Hover Marine Developments insisted that the financial backing was already in place for its Breydon Recreational and Cultural Centre.

The aim of the so-called Breydon Lagoona was to complement Yarmouth’s existing facilities and attractions with a variety of features “for the use of all, regardless of age, interests or background.”

To a layman’s eye, the prospectus appeared to be diligently researched and detailed but, it transpired, lacked the plausibility factor and was rejected, to the delight and relief of the influential Breydon wild-life conservationists. In hindsight, one wonders what impact for change it would have had if it had been implemented.

So, had it all come to fruition and not succumbed to the current economic downturn, this weekend locals and visitors could have gone there by road, rail, boat or hovercraft, perhaps staying in the hotels and other accommodation catering for not less than 2000 people.

Many would head for the sports centre dominated by the covered 25,000-seat stadium with part-opening roof for summers, removable floor for international swimming and diving events, flooding potential for ice-hockey and skating, artificial athletics tracks, full TV facilities, stables for equestrian events, provision for a stage or platform for concerts, congresses and rallies, adaptability for exhibitions, shows...

Do I recall a chance remark that the England football team might play there?

In the adjacent covered sports centre, or outside, would be facilities for tennis, badminton, archery, bowls, squash, billiards and snooker. boxing, fencing, gymnastics, basketball, netball, children’s nursery...

Boats up to seagoing size could be accommodated in the lagoona’s waters, and there would be a rowing course.

As for the cultural centre, a group of varied buildings “which together will establish in East Anglia a centre unmatched in the country”, it would incorporate a 600-seat theatre (designed for the production of modern and traditional plays, lighter entertainments, opera and ballet), three cinemas (seating a total of 1250) and assembly hall (all under a single roof and incorporating restaurant and bar), art galleries and museum, teaching and artists’ studios.

Outside would be an open-air theatre.

“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,” the brochure declared.

The shopper had not been overlooked, for there would be three groups around the island, from domestic supplies like grocery, services like hairdressers and launderette, to luxury sales, all carefully limited so as not to compete with “the much wider range of shopping available in Yarmouth.”

Spiritual needs were also catered for in the document, with three churches planned “in feature positions to serve the community, designed to the requirements of the denominations served.”

As for Anders Larson’s current suggestion, we can but wait and see.