SnOasis inquiry hears local fears
SNOASIS is a speculative development with no operator found to run the £320 million complex, a Government inspector was warned yesterday.William Upton, the barrister representing the SnOasis Community Alliance - which consists of more than ten parish and town councils locally - voiced their concerns during day two of the public inquiry into the planned leisure, sports and holiday complex.
By John Howard
SNOASIS is a speculative development with no operator found to run the £320 million complex, a Government inspector was warned yesterday.
William Upton, the barrister representing the SnOasis Community Alliance - which consists of more than ten parish and town councils locally - voiced their concerns during day two of the public inquiry into the planned leisure, sports and holiday complex.
If approved by the Government once the inspector has given his verdict after the six week hearing, it will include a 475-metre long ski slope, a four star 350-bed hotel, 350 chalets and 100 apartments at Great Blakenham, near Ipswich.
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It is part of a wider development including 421 new homes, doubling the size of the village, and a new railway station.
But Mr Upton told planning inspector John Gray at Ipswich Corn Exchange that construction costs have been escalating.
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And he questioned the project's viability, highlighting fears about whether the interest payments could be met on commercial debts.
Mr Upton said: “This is a speculative development. (Developer) Onslow Suffolk has not got an operator, and no operator has been identified at the moment and I presume that is not through a want of trying.”
But the inquiry also heard that at the appropriate time an operator would be found and that SnOasis would deliver a huge jobs boost to Suffolk and help restructure its economy away from declining industries.
Finance expert Karl Eddy, partner at Grant Thornton UK's Project Finance Team, said that the huge winter sports complex was a viable business and would have major benefits for the region.
Mr Eddy said: “Once operational it is anticipated that SnOasis will employ the equivalent of 1,470 full time equivalent jobs. We believe the project delivers an acceptable rate of return to the shareholders.”
He added that the county's economy was lagging behind due to an over-dependence on manufacturing and other traditional sectors and SnOasis would help Suffolk develop its economy and catch up to the national average.
He said: “The Suffolk economy is primarily a low-wage, low-skill economy. The percentage of the workforce employed in manufacturing is substantially higher than the national average while the percentage in the service sector is much lower.
“SnOasis, by supporting new employment creation in the tourism sector will assist in restructuring the economy and support higher levels of employment.”
The leisure complex and related developments are the biggest for the region since the Port of Felixstowe and John Gray, an architect with a master's degree in urban planning, was chosen to act as the planning inspector for the hearing.
The inquiry, ordered by the Government after Mid Suffolk District Council gave SnOasis, the nearby housing development and the railway station the green light, continues today.