Portuguese community plan back on track

A one stop shop for Thetford's Portuguese community is hoping to get back on track after plans for a restaurant and dance hall threw a spanner in the works.

A one stop shop for Thetford's Portuguese community is hoping to get back on track after plans for a restaurant and dance hall threw a spanner in the works.

Businessman Jose de Silva had set up a dance hall, restaurant and snooker room in a sublet section of Ashley House on Thetford's Stephenson Way industrial estate without planning permission and was refused a licence to sell alcohol.

He was accused of “blatant disregard for the law”, has since left the venue and on Monday a retrospective planning application for change of use of the former factory canteen was thrown out by Breckland councillors over police concerns and worries that it should be in the town centre not on an industrial estate.

Councillors on the development control board also asked that enforcement action be taken against Mr de Silva's business.

But Joao Noronha, editor of the Portuguese National Newspaper, which occupies a separate part of the building, said this would not be necessary.

Mr de Silva had left and a new planning application is to be submitted to get the one stop shop service hub project they had originally envisioned in February this year back on track.

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“We sublet part of the centre and it went wrong,” he said. “What Mr de Silva had wanted to do with the first floor was nothing to do with us. We were against what he was doing.

“Now we have to take back over and we want to go back to the project we started with, a membership club, a welcome centre for families and children, which we are already setting up.

“We want to turn it into a one stop shop with space rented by service providers who we have already spoken to and are interested.”

He said their centre in another part of the building, open for nine months, was already helping some 600 families.

Mr de Silva's plans had not been supported by the centre, he added.

At Monday's meeting Mr De Silva was accused of “blatant disregard for licensing and planning laws”, but councillors were not told he had left the centre.

The meeting heard his plans included a supermarket, gymnastics, christenings and karaoke as well as the restaurant, dance hall and pool room.

James Lawson, a planning agent from Trojan Property Group representing businesses on the site, said firms wanted to protect the employment area and didn't want the uses including retail and leisure proposed by Mr de Silva allowed.

The original plans, including activities and courses, one stop shop with some 30 services available from various providers, Portuguese culture for ex-pats, some Portuguese culture events and birthday parties, would now be pursued, said Mr Noronha.

He said a snack bar at the site helped pay for the club's activities.

And he refuted concerns that the project could cause crime in the area and said that they had hunted for one year for a venue in the town centre, but that nothing affordable was available.

He said so far, the centre had been doing very well, helping businesses, teaching English and people with their IT skills, about 10 people were employed at the site, which would hopefully increase to 25, although four had lost their jobs when Mr de Silva left, mainly restaurant staff and a DJ.

Plans for a membership based co-operative food shop were being worked on.

It follows on from, and is hoped will expand on, a Keystone development trust scheme called Mobile Europeans Taking Action (Meta), which helped migrants in the area.

Mr de Silva could not be contacted for comment yesterday.