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What is happening to the old Pontins in Hemsby?

PUBLISHED: 20:52 28 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:33 29 September 2017

A picture taken from a drone shows just how vast the former Pontins holiday camp in Hemsby is. Photo: Simon Carter

A picture taken from a drone shows just how vast the former Pontins holiday camp in Hemsby is. Photo: Simon Carter

Simon Carter

It is a tale of two neighbouring holiday parks.

Last weekend the site was broken into and the large entertainment hall was set on fire. Picture: MICK HOWESLast weekend the site was broken into and the large entertainment hall was set on fire. Picture: MICK HOWES

One has been left to decay for nearly ten years, another is just about to embark on a multi-million pound investment.

After standing empty for nearly a decade, a the former Pontins holiday camp has fallen into a state of wrack and ruin.

In its heyday, the Pontins holiday camp at Hemsby housed tens of thousands of holidaymakers during the season.

Then at the end of 2008, staff were given just 48 hours notice to leave when the camp closed suddenly.

The old chalets have become run down and are often the target of vandals. Photo: Nick ButcherThe old chalets have become run down and are often the target of vandals. Photo: Nick Butcher

The site’s 50 plus buildings have since fallen into disrepair and have become a target for vandals and arsonists alike.

MORE: Green light for £10m ‘Super Park’

Meanwhile, next door at Seacroft, it was announced this week that a new £10m holiday “Super Park” will get under way in Hemsby next month after planning permission for the exciting new development was granted.

The move will see Stalham-based Richardson’s combine its existing family holiday park and grown-ups-only holiday village into one 45-acre facility at the Beach Road site in Hemsby.

The new development will feature five luxury lodges, 230 gold and silver standard caravans, 19 gold bungalows, 25 gold apartments and 117 basic chalets.

Last year more chalets were deliberately set on fire.  Picture: James BassLast year more chalets were deliberately set on fire. Picture: James Bass

Work is expected to be finished in time for the new holiday season next year and follows the addition of 130 caravans over the last two years.

Target for arsonists and vandals

A 'for sale' sign was put up outside the site, but it still remains empty. 

Picture: James BassA 'for sale' sign was put up outside the site, but it still remains empty. Picture: James Bass

Last Saturday a fire started in the former entertainments building which took 40 firefighters two hours to bring under control.

Great Yarmouth station manager at Jonathan Wilby said crews did a fantastic job to stop it from spreading further.

He added: “The way we dealt with it was with aggressive, offensive firefighting as crews attacked from outside and inside to stop the fire from worsening. It’s a derelict secure building and this was deliberate ignition – an arson attack.”

Over the years, a number of schemes for the site have been proposed but so far nothing has progressed.

The old go kart track which has not been used for nearly a decade. Photo: Simon CarterThe old go kart track which has not been used for nearly a decade. Photo: Simon Carter

The last application in March 2016 was rejected by borough councillors and to date the council has not yet issued a decision notice in respect of the said application and the applicant has not made an appeal.

MORE: Blaze at former holiday camp treated as arson

Leader of the borough council Graham Plant said the site’s owners had allowed the site to fall into disrepair.

He added: “This saga has dragged on for about nine years. I think it’s really poor that the owner’s had something so good that was bringing in thousands of people and let it get into this state.”

He said the borough council had made requests that the owners tidy the site up, but these had not been acted on.

At its height, Pontins could accommodate over 2,500 people at one time. Picture: James BassAt its height, Pontins could accommodate over 2,500 people at one time. Picture: James Bass

“We know Vauxhall has invested millions, and so has Seashore and others. There is money to made, they are making good business.

“Over the years several people have had ideas over what to do to it but have been turned down by the owners.

“The council is looking very hard at what’s going to happen with the site. It’s on our radar and I think it’s wrong people can get onto the site for vandalism.

“Whoever started the fire in the main hall has made it easier to be knocked down and turned into a residential site.”

The site has over 50 separate buildings, which have all been left to rot. Photo: Simon CarterThe site has over 50 separate buildings, which have all been left to rot. Photo: Simon Carter

A timeline of the site

Villagers hoped a new holiday facility would open at the site after Pontins shut up shop.

The owner's would like to see 200+ houses built. Photo: Simon CarterThe owner's would like to see 200+ houses built. Photo: Simon Carter

However the site has remained unused since the end of 2008 after the vast site was not snapped up by rival holiday firms.

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.

From the start there were fears the site could become a residential area, and as early as October 2009, villagers were being consulted on plans for new homes.

At first 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.

Villagers would like to see a new tourist facility built. Photo: Simon CarterVillagers would like to see a new tourist facility built. Photo: Simon Carter

In 2011 entrepreneur Simon Middleton put forward a plan for an “Eden Project of the East” which was well received by villagers keen to see a tourist element on the site, however plans fell through.

New proposals were then put forward for 130 homes, with one-third of the site housing 100 caravans for holidays, but this also faced local opposition.

In September 2014 home builders Persimmon wanted to put up 250 homes on the site, but this scheme was pulled by the firm.

By 2015, developers dropped the pub plans after protests from villagers and reduced the number of homes to 200 and included a space for commercial or community use.

The site has become overgrown, but is now a haven for wildlife. Photo: Nick ButcherThe site has become overgrown, but is now a haven for wildlife. Photo: Nick Butcher

MORE: Bid to find tourism compromise for former Pontins site

In March 2016, that bid was rejected when it went before Great Yarmouth Borough Council’s planning committee as councillors were concerned at the lack of tourist facility.

A spokesman for Northern Trust, the site’s owners, said several bids had been received for the site but disappointingly on each occasion none progressed through to an outright sale.

She added: “The local authority’s preference is that the site is refurbished and reopened, but this has not proved to be a viable option. Whilst the site remains on the market, there is no current interest, and it is more likely the site will need to be completely redeveloped.

“Northern Trust continues to work closely with the local authority, members of the public and other key stakeholders on bringing forward the regeneration of the site for the benefit of the local economy.”

It has become an eyesore which angers villagers. Photo: Nick ButcherIt has become an eyesore which angers villagers. Photo: Nick Butcher

The Pontins site is vast

The 22 acre site consists of four single storey chalet blocks and 44 two storey chalet blocks – total of 512 individual chalets.

In 2008 staff were given just 48 hours notice of its closure before they had to leave. Photo: Nick ButcherIn 2008 staff were given just 48 hours notice of its closure before they had to leave. Photo: Nick Butcher

It could accommodate 2,440 people at peak capacity.

The site consists of a reception and information centre, amusement arcade, fast food outlet, play area, entertainment hall seating 1,700, smaller hall accommodating 800 and a shop.

There was also an indoor swimming pool, a pub, snooker rooms, tennis courts, adventure playground and go-karting track.

The 50 plus buildings are all in a state of disrepair and are often vandalised.

There has been a holiday camp at the site of Pontins since the begining of the 20th century. Photo: Nick ButcherThere has been a holiday camp at the site of Pontins since the begining of the 20th century. Photo: Nick Butcher

The chalets were divided into three categories: budget, classic and club standard and mostly consisted of one-bedroom, bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Staff accommodation was also provided on site providing a home for some of the 55 people who worked at the camp.

Eden Project of the East

The camp would bring in tens of thousands of people a year and gave businesses in Hemsby a steady stream of customers. Photo: Nick ButcherThe camp would bring in tens of thousands of people a year and gave businesses in Hemsby a steady stream of customers. Photo: Nick Butcher

An idea was first mooted back in 2011.

It was championed by Norwich-based entrepreneur Simon Middleton.

His vision was for an 800-person holiday centre under two giant domes.

The abandoned site looks spooky and eerie as it has not been touched for almost a decade. Photo: Nick ButcherThe abandoned site looks spooky and eerie as it has not been touched for almost a decade. Photo: Nick Butcher

It would have provided a camping space that would be warm and dry all year around and recreational area.

Plans were dropped because of a price dispute between landowners and investors.

The Eden Project opened in Cornwall to mark the millennium at a cost £140m.

It employs around 400 people and since opening in 2001 it has added more than £1.7bn to the local economy.

The council leader Graham Plant said he would like to see something done and fast. Photo: Nick ButcherThe council leader Graham Plant said he would like to see something done and fast. Photo: Nick Butcher

The project is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, the EU and donations. In recent years it has posted six figure annual losses.

With annual visitors of over 1m, it is the 15th most popular tourist attraction in the country, narrowly beating Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach, which comes in at 16th place.

What villagers want

The site's owners said they tried to get a new tourist operator to buy the site, but no-one wanted to buy it for that reason. Photo: Nick ButcherThe site's owners said they tried to get a new tourist operator to buy the site, but no-one wanted to buy it for that reason. Photo: Nick Butcher

On the ground in Hemsby, people are fed up of inaction at the site.

Chairman of the parish council Keith Kyriacou said his parishioners did not want to see more homes, but accepted that is what would probably be built eventually.

Mr Kyriacou added: “As a village we want some starter homes for our youngsters. Parishioners would love to see a new medical centre or GP surgery built.

Nearly ten years later, villagers still do not know what the future holds for the 21 acre site. Photo: Nick ButcherNearly ten years later, villagers still do not know what the future holds for the 21 acre site. Photo: Nick Butcher

“Back Market Lane needs widening, a footpath and street lights. Maybe if they gave something back to the village people would feel differently.

“People are fed up they have had no rates paid on the premises since it closed which is bang out of order and they pay nothing into the Tourism BID levy.”

Mr Kyriacou said government housing quotas meant more houses had to be built, but there were already several other large developments proposed in the village. He asked: “Why are they picking on Hemsby?”

Will anyone take responsibility for this mess? Photo: Nick ButcherWill anyone take responsibility for this mess? Photo: Nick Butcher

What happened in Blackpool?

A similar Pontins site up North is to be converted into hundreds of new homes.

The site closed nine months after the Hemsby camp and both were a similar size.

Pontins was a place of fun for generations of family. It's motto for staff was Pontins was a place of fun for generations of family. It's motto for staff was "keep smiling." Photo: Daniel Kennedy

It was in a village called Lytham St Anne’s, around a 20 minute drive to Blackpool, the same distance between Hemsby and Great Yarmouth.

The holiday centre was sold to Northern Trust, the same company as the Hemsby site, and they initially tried to find a tourism use for the site.

Planning permission was granted in 2012 for 348 three, four and five bedroom homes.

The development is called Coastal Dunes, because of its proximity to the dunes, just like in Hemsby.

A pensioner whose home neighbours the site told the local newspaper: “Anything will look better than the old Pontin’s buildings and the heap of rubble we have had to look at for four or five years.”

A local councillor said: “The sooner what remains of the Pontin’s buildings are cleared and homes built there the better.”

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