Plans have been released this week for the development of three former RAF airfields in Norfolk. On the face of it, these represent steps forward in preservation whilst allowing a sympathetic development of these historical sites in at least two of them, and development and part preservation in a third. These proposals will not only revitalise the decaying structures, but will also allow public access to the very infrastructure of the sites that once protected our skies. In part, they offer a model for future development and preservation of Britain’s aviation heritage, whilst highlighting the sacrifice of the crews who flew from them.
The first of these is that of RAF Downham Market.
RAF Downham Market (RAF Bexwell)
Proposals were put to the government on Monday for a new multi-million pound technology park on the former RAF base at Downham Market. It is proposed that the site will create 4,600 jobs and become a centre of excellence for technology comparable to those already at Cambridge.
The £300m project will include a major campus dealing with data and data handling. This will include a research centre for both under and post-graduate students, a hotel, leisure and tourist facilities.
Whilst the proposals have only just been put forward, consultations have already started, and so final planning proposals are hoped to be revealed early in the new year. Local residents are raising objections due to the losing of the ‘green space’, along with increased pressure on the local infrastructure, which according to some, is already stretched.
According to reports, the plans also include restoring some of the few remaining buildings, creating a bronze statue and a museum to commemorate the work of Downham Market crews; something that is long overdue.
Downham Market airfield was the home of: 218 and 623 Sqns both flying Short Stirlings, 571 Sqn and 608 Sqn, both flying Mosquitos in the Pathfinder role and 635 Sqn who flew Lancasters between March 1944 and September 1945. It is where Flt. Sgt. Arthur Aaron and Sqn. Ldr. Ian Bazalgette were both awarded VCs for their bravery and heroic acts whilst on missions over Europe. It is from where the last Mosquito mission took place which was also the last RAF operation of the war.
Whilst the runways and perimeter track are long gone, a few buildings still do remain in current use. There is no official memorial at Downham Market, although there is a memorial to both Aaron and Bazalgette outside the local church.
These plans are very much in the early stages, but a number of parties have shown an interest in the proposition and development is likely in the near future.
The government material can be accessed here.
Downham Market was originally visited in Trail 7.