The Pied Piper

It was then I reached out to friends to try and help me pin down what it was I was trying to achieve.  I turned to some theatrical friends who put on Norfolk’s largest amateur pantomime (they sell 2000 seats over 9 days) to discuss what makes a spectacle people want to see.   Lloyd Parfitt loved the idea of what was being planned then came on board to help with the planning of the overall attraction and helped guide me through what could work.

After having a board meeting about where the best place would be I was thrown a curve ball, Wroxham had come out of the meeting as being the best location in terms of generating sufficient visitor numbers.  It had the Bure Valley Steam Railway, a main line BR railway station that linked to the rest of the UK as well as the poppy line in Sheringham.  Nearly 1,000,000 people started or finished their boating holidays in Wroxham or stayed in holiday accommodation in the area.  It was close enough to the main beach resorts of Gt. Yarmouth and was a well known place for day trippers talking guided boat trips. There was just one problem there were no properties available that even came close to being large enough available!

So far everybody had loved the idea, the whole concept was receiving no resistance somehow I just had to keep the momentum going.

The strange way this county divides up council boundaries meant that the Wroxham area is split between three authorities, which one we needed to talk to would depend on the postcode of the building… unfortunately a museum has a special category of planning that comes with some onerous conditions.  We needed a warehouse sized building, “Google Earth” came to the rescue allowing me to calculate the size of all the large buildings in Wroxham from the air, and there was one possibility.

Station Business Park is a collection of buildings, there was 5,000sqft there available to rent, but it wasn’t big enough, but seemed the easiest place to start.  The Bates family were incredibly helpful and by negotiation we were able to agree sufficient space for us to develop not only the attraction, but also the space for a coffee shop and an extensive model shop.  In total we were able to agree that over the space of a year we could have around 15,000sqft which is almost a 1/3rd of an acre.

Now even the landlords of the only suitable site were on board and excited about bringing such an attraction to the area somehow the project was still rolling all I had to do now was get the planners on board… There was simply no way of telling how that would go.

North Norfolk District Council were the governing body for the site, but initial approaches warned that converting any “Industrial Building” to other uses was regarded as “inappropriate” for Hoveton due to the shortage of employment land  in the area… This was not going to be easy.

I developed some detailed documents outlining the proposal, how it fitted into the local tourism landscape, projected visitor numbers, traffic implications and submitted a request for pre-planning set of consultations.  It took several weeks to get even an indication of how the project was being perceived and it was a nail biting time.

With pre planning likely to take two months and the planning application likely to take a minimum of another two months, time was already tight if we were to get the permission through by Christmas 2011.  Starting the build in January 2012 would give us 15 months to get the attraction completed for an Easter 2013 opening the whole timescale was on a knife edge.

In my original build plan we needed to start making the model buildings for the layout as it would take months to build the 200 or so we were going to need for just one layout.  The model railway trade in the UK is quite a small community almost everybody knows everybody and I was an outsider, somehow I had to be taken seriously without even the planning permission in place.

With nothing but a wing and a prayer I picked up the phone and spoke to Gaugemaster, my call was directed to Julian Lilley, after a short pitch I was invited down to explain what we were up to before we could agree a supply contract.  After l long drive from Norfolk to Arundel, with Lloyd Parfitt at my side talking our way through the kit we needed to buy and the pitch we needed to give, we pulled up at Gaugemasters head office and took a deep breath.

We were given a tour of the premises and a 3 hour grilling of our finances, the plans for the attraction, our credentials and then had to agree a minimum initial spend.    Lloyd and I smiled we could now go shopping in one of the largest warehouses of model railway bits in the UK, we were like kids in a sweet shop!  At last we could get the pre-build underway. Returning from Arundel with a car bulging with models, and an even larger order to follow a few days later we know the project was underway.  We just had the small issue of planning permission left to deal with!

The pre planning advice came back in early October, there were issues to address, and I once again had to go into overdrive to pull the information together to balance the concerns they had raised.  In less than 10 days I managed to pull the full planning application together with full plans and It was submitted on the 14th of October, and as with all planning applications it was now up to the planning department and the local people of Hoveton to decide our fate.

With many thousands of pounds invested in models being assembled by a small but dedicated team we all waited with bated breath.  We knew it was going to be at least 8 weeks before we got any form of indication of the likely outcome.  But as the days ticked by nothing seemed to be happening and the nerves got worse, we watched the planning website for updates but by the 5th of December we were all getting twitchy if the permission didn’t arrive soon it would be mid January before we would get an answer…  I placed a call to find out what was happening…

The application had received no objections from council departments, the parish council or the public and was therefore able to be decided under delegated powers which meant it didn’t have to go to a full planning committee hearing, it was up to the head of the planning department to decide… We crossed our fingers and continued to wait.

Finally on the 13th of December 2011 the decision was made… planning permission was granted for the Modelworld project to go ahead. It came just in time for us to begin to put plans together to start building in January 2012.  Just 12 months after the idea first hatched we were all systems go…

Somehow the piper is still playing… lets hope he keeps it up! theres so much more to do!