Seasonal hostel plan under fire

Liz Coates A proposal to turn temporary accommodation for up to 150 seasonal farm-workers into a permanent hostel on the fringe of a Broadland village has been attacked as “outrageous”.

Liz Coates

A proposal to turn temporary accommodation for up to 150 seasonal farm-workers into a permanent hostel on the fringe of a Broadland village has been attacked as “outrageous”.

But the farmer behind the plan said he needs to invest in proper facilities to make it a better experience for the Eastern and Central European university students who come, and to stop them from going elsewhere.

People living close to Mill Farm in Ormesby St Margaret say they are “absolutely appalled” to learn of the application for year-round dormitories for the April to October salad-picking season.

Neighbour Barry Barrett who lives next door in North Road has posted copies of the application through around 100 letter boxes in the village after he realised only a handful of homes had been notified through the planning process.

But farm owner and chairman of the National Farmers' Union's horticultural board Richard Hirst said: “All we want to do is make it a better experience for the people who are coming here. It is getting harder and harder to get people to come to plant and harvest and if facilities are not up to scratch they will go elsewhere.”

Most Read

In a supporting statement to Great Yarmouth Borough Council the applicants say housing, recreational and washing facilities would be better provided in permanent cabins, cutting down on lorry movements needed to install and remove them.

The temporary workforce which starts with a handful in April, rising to 100 in July and 250 in October is said to be made up of university students as part of their agriculture studies.

Retired Mr Barrett said rising numbers of young people, mostly men, had been living in temporary mobile buildings for around five years, starting with about 30 in 2003 and rising to about 100 last year.

He said their noisy parties and ball games were a nuisance, although he had never complained and tried to “live and let live”.

However, the situation was becoming increasingly intolerable for himself, wife Jacky and their son. He said: “They are always at work during the day but they play hard and you cannot blame them. But it is not just about the noise next to me - it is a community issue. They go round in groups and they are intimidating on our narrow pavements and I am finding there are more people having problems. I would say people are outraged. I just don't like the way it is going.”

Peter Kirkpatrick, who lives in nearby Beck Avenue and is chairman of the Rural North Tenants Association, said he could not argue with the principle of improving conditions for workers but wanted to trigger open debate.

He said: “I cannot criticise someone having a hot shower; it's just the sheer numbers. How many people can you squeeze into a farm yard? By objecting to it we bring it out into debate and make more people aware.”

Ormesby borough councillor Charles Reynolds said: “All I can understand is that it is a matter of providing better facilities for these people who have been there five years.

“They have been doing this for many years and could legally carry on doing it. I have heard of virtually no problems with these people. They are essential to the farming industry. There are no more people and no extension of the season.”

Peter Warner, head of planning at Great Yarmouth Borough Council, said permission was not required for temporary units, only for permanent ones.

He said it was early days for the application and that people had until March 31 to respond. The applicant had noted that the units were only absent for three months of the year. The plans show the dormitory layout, a recreation room and an amenity building.

The issue will be discussed at Ormesby's parish council meeting on Monday at 7.30pm at the Village Centre in Station Road.