Fire hit holiday village taking shape

THE drive to re-open a holiday village ravaged by one of the biggest fires in Suffolk's history is gathering pace as a massive £55million construction project enters its last phase.

THE drive to re-open a holiday village ravaged by one of the biggest fires in Suffolk's history is gathering pace as a massive £55million construction project enters its last phase.

And despite a continuing High Court battle with their insurers, managers of the Center Parcs complex have again insisted the rebuild is running to schedule.

The first guests are due back at the Elveden Forest site in around 14 weeks time.

Just 12 months ago the holiday village burnt to the ground, resulting in a £79million claim to more than 20 firms which insured the complex. Although bosses have yet to receive any payout, and face a court hearing early in 2004, the rebuild has continued, with costs so far running to some £35million.

Around 350 contractors have rebuilt the central plaza, the charred remains of which have now been replaced with a substantial new development covering a floor space of 27,000 square metres.

Massive quantities of steel, concrete and brick have been used during the construction of the building's shell.

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And next week, specialist fitters will install the interiors of shops, restaurants, bars and leisure facilities, with tropical plants and landscaping added following the completion of the building work.

But the pivotal point in the project will take place in mid-April, when contractors masterminding the scheme hope to refill the holiday village's swimming pool - one part of the complex which largely survived last April's devastating blaze.

Martin Dalby, managing director of Center Parcs in the UK, said the amount of work undertaken to date demonstrated the company's commitment to reopening on schedule.

“A huge amount of progress has been made in a very short, condensed period of time,” he said. “It is worthwhile reflecting on the fact it is only a year ago since that awful and tragic day last April when we had the fire.

“The project is at a very significant turning point at the moment. All the buildings are up and watertight, and we are now entering the period where the shops and restaurants will be fitted out in readiness for opening.

“In principle, most of the ingredients will remain the same, but the village will be a significantly improved facility. We are taking a great deal of care in training new staff to provide the service which our guests expect.

“And this is the biggest single construction site in the UK at the moment. It makes me very proud to be part of Center Parcs.”

Along with the £45million rebuild project, around £10million is being spent constructing a further 50 villas and a new sauna facility at Elveden Forest, increasing the village's capacity by 250 to hit the 4,000 mark.

And a recruitment campaign to attract staff to man the improved facilities has been hailed a success, with more than 2,500 applications so far received for positions at Center Parcs.

The 250 staff made redundant as a result of the fire have been offered their jobs back, while around 400 housekeeping and catering positions have yet to be filled.

“The response has been extremely encouraging, and most of our recruitment has been done locally, which is good news,” said Steve Mullins, general manager of the Elveden Forest complex.

“At the start of the project we faced a huge challenge, but now it is becoming a reality. We have been taking bookings since Christmas, and at the moment they are extremely high for Elveden, and are running at a rate exceeding any of our other three villages.

“We think people's anticipation to come and see the site is very high. Bookings for the summer holidays are excellent, and we already have a substantial number booked in for Christmas and New Year.”

The holiday village will open for two trial weeks on June 27, with full-paying guests returning on July 11.

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