Video: SnOasis 'will put Suffolk on world map'

SUFFOLK is set to go ski crazy after the £300million SnOasis complex got the official thumbs up from government chiefs today.

SUFFOLK is set to go ski crazy after the £300million SnOasis complex got the official thumbs up from government chiefs.

The winter sports complex will feature Europe's largest indoor ski slope, provide nearly 1,500 jobs and an estimated £70m boost for the local economy.

The ambitious plans, which also include a new railway station for Great Blakenham and a 421-home housing development in the village, were given the green light today by communities secretary Hazel Blears following months of wrangling over final details.

Work is expected to get under way preparing the site as early as spring next year.

Godfrey Spanner, managing director of developers Onslow Suffolk, said he was more than happy about the news, which had taken seven years of work by his 28-strong team to achieve.

“We have now got a target and can set our programme and we can start to procure the people who are going to build this. We are ready to go.”

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He did not think the credit crunch would affect the plans and hopes to start work on re-homing the great crested newts on the site in March next year.

“That will be the start of the construction programme which should take 30 months or so. We can now go about recruiting the people to carry forward the development.

“It will mean everything for Suffolk and will put Suffolk on the world map. The whole focus of winter sports will be in Ipswich.”

He hoped SnOasis would be open by 2012.

The decision has also got the backing of Ipswich MP Chris Mole who has been a long-time supporter of the complex.

“My consistent view has been hugely supportive to the SnOasis project for the potential it has to put Ipswich on the map as a visitor destination,” he said.

“I know this facility will be enormously welcomed by both advanced skiers who want this sort of facility so that they can pursue their sport and also from families who will welcome the opportunity to use a facility which will be just like Center Parcs on ice.

“What's more it makes great use of an absolute eyesore of a site that has been used for quarrying for a number of years and will, I think, enhance the area.”

Suffolk businessman Clive Thomas - former chairman of the Institute of Directors' Suffolk branch, who campaigned strongly for Snoasis during his term of office - described the decision as “fantastic news”.

“It is an absolute disgrace that it has taken so long to get this decision,” he said. “We have been supporting Snoasis since 2003 and the developers have been working on it since 2001.”

The downturn in the economy in recent months highlighted how wrong the opponents of the scheme had been to question the need for the 2,000 jobs which Snoasis would create, said Mr Thomas.

“Hopefully, the development will help reduce the impact of any recession on Suffolk,” he added.

“As a £350million inward investment, it will help the local economy during the construction phase and then, when it is completed, Snoasis will be one of the biggest private sector employers in the county.”

Celia Hodson, chief executive of the economic development partnership Choose Suffolk, said she believed that Snoasis would become an asset of value to the whole county.

Choose Suffolk, formerly known as the Suffolk Development Agency, works to promote both tourism and inward investment, and Ms Hodson, who took up her role as chief executive just two weeks ago, said the team was confident that Snoasis would have a positive impact in both areas.

“Everyone at the Choose Suffolk office is absolutely thrilled at this announcement,” she said.

“Snoasis will raise the profile of Suffolk in a really positive way and will become a catalyst for further investment in the county.

“It will make people think about the county in a different way, and we will use this as an opportunity to further promote Suffolk as a fantastic place to live, to work and to relocate to.”

On the tourism side, Ms Hodson said Choose Suffolk would work to develop offers and deals in order to promote the rest of the county to visitors using the facilities at Snoasis, and she believed the wider tourism sector - which is worth an estimated £1.1billion to the Suffolk economy and already provides around 21,000 jobs - would benefit further as a result.

Ms Hodson added that although there clearly would be an environmental impact from the development, she was confident that the rigour of the planning process and the continuing role of local authorities would ensure that the necessary infrastructure was put in place.

Tim Passmore, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: “We are delighted that the Government has at last, after excessive delay, made a positive decision.

“This is tremendous news for mid Suffolk and the county's economy as a whole, particularly during this very difficult economic situation that we are all going through.

“This will be extremely important, will generate wealth for Suffolk which has got to be welcome. There will be benefits for other businesses, increased tourism.

“This puts Suffolk very firmly on the map. We will get improvements for our infrastructure as well, with new rail and road work on the A14 and A12.

“My only cautionary note is that I hope the excessive delay by the Government agreeing with the decision which our councillors took, now well over two years ago, does not mean that the economic downturn causes problems accessing capital for construction.

“We will be working very hard with the developer to make sure local people's worries about disruption and noise are addressed as best as is possible. I am delighted it is going ahead, this will be welcomed by nearly everyone in the whole of Suffolk.”

Richard Ellis, chairman of the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), also welcomed the decision.

“The SnOasis project is good for Suffolk and good for the region and we are delighed that it has got the green light,” he said. “Not only will this initiative create vital jobs and be a real asset for the East of England region, but it also provides the promise of significant capital investment at a time when it is sorely needed.”

He added: “This will mean another world-class sporting venue for the region, which is already set to benefit in a big way from London 2012 being staged on our doorstep and in the region, with Broxbourne on the Hertfordshire/Essex border hosting the white water canoeing.

“SnOasis will help build the reputation of the East of England as a destination for sport of all standards and EEDA looks forward to working with regional partners and developers to help bring this project to fruition.”

The green light follows months of hold-ups following a lengthy public inquiry and environmental concerns.

Since the summer Onslow Suffolk have been addressing a series of issues, predominantly linked to sustainability and wildlife.

Opponents said they were saddened by the news - but would not stop the campaign because it was only an outline planning permission.

John Williams from the SnOasis Community Alliance - a grouping of parish councils against the ski slope - said: “I feel saddened that at a time when we have a new president in the United States who has vowed to improve the environment that we could have our own government who has gone against that and developed the largest refrigerator in the world.

"Does the government believe in climate change or not? It's very sad."

He added that opposers were sad that mitigating factors such as wildlife on the site and traffic had not had any effect on the government decision.

He said there were concerns about the amount of traffic it will generate and how that traffic will be controlled. But the group would carry on fighting to get what was right for local people.

He said: "This is still only outline planning permission. We have to carry on. Our job all the way through is to make sure for local people that we get the best result out of this application."

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