Suffolk: “Put up or shut up” call from Mid Suffolk council leader Tim Passmore over SnOasis

COULD the �300 million SnOasis project be replaced by a new velodrome for East Anglia?

That was a suggestion yesterday from the leader of the council that has spent nearly a decade dealing with planning issues surrounding the scheme.

Mid Suffolk District Council leader Tim Passmore urged SnOasis developers Onslow Suffolk to get on with it, or find a new use for land which has been earmarked for the project since 2003.

He suggested the site could be used for another, less ambitious, scheme – possibly a velodrome which could tap into the current popularity of cycling following the Olympics and Paralympics.

Developer Godfrey Spanner, of Onslow Suffolk, said SnOasis should get back on track after his team had a productive meeting about the prospects of a new rail station being built.

But Mr Passmore told the EADT last night: “This saga has been going on a very long time and has cost a substantial amount of public money.

“So far as Mid Suffolk is concerned, it has cost about �500,000 when you take into account officer time and the cost of the public inquiry.

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“It would be good to see work get under way and it would be very good news for the construction industry – but many people are asking whether it will ever happen.”

Mr Passmore remains sceptical about the prospects of SnOasis, and said it may be necessary to consider other uses for the site.

He suggested that after the success of British cycling in recent Olympics it might be a suitable site for a Velodrome to serve the region – or other uses could be considered.

“There needs to be some kind of decision – get on with it or walk away. In short it is a case of put up or shut up,” he said.

Cycling had seen a significant increase in popularity over the last few months – but although East Anglia was one of the most popular areas of the country for cycling, the nearest purpose-built Velodrome was at the Olympic park in east London.

Mr Passmore said: “I have felt for some time that a velodrome somewhere along the A14 would be good for the area – this is the home county of Victoria Pendleton and there is considerable interest in the sport now.

“I don’t know how much it would cost or if anyone would come up with the money, but Blakenham would appear to have a lot going for it if the site was available.”

The saga has now been running almost a decade – the first proposals for SnOasis were unveiled in early 2003.

One of the key elements was that the centre should have its own railway station which would be built on the main rail line which passes through Blakenham.

A condition of the centre’s development was that the station should be open six months before SnOasis itself opens.

Mr Spanner said he was confident that work on the project could start later in the year after a meeting between Onslow and the Department for Transport showed a way for the station to be built.

He said: “There have been serious delays over this because of the changes to the rail franchises over the last few years with changes between National Express to Greater Anglia.

“Now there is a new rail franchise due to start in 2014 and we are having talks with DfT about getting the station included in the franchise – once that is approved we can get on and build the station as part of the SnOasis project.”

If all the hurdles are overcome, he still hoped to start work later this year and get SnOasis open by 2015.

Mr Spanner said the finance for the project was still secure. The money for the scheme had never come from Irish banks.

“We have some Irish investors and a current account with an Irish bank – but the funding for the project is not from Irish banks and remains secure,” he said.