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Abbey Barns homes reprieve

PUBLISHED: 09:05 24 June 2009 | UPDATED: 21:36 07 July 2010

Campaigners have won a temporary respite in their bid to save Thetford's historic Abbey Farm Barns from being converted into homes.

Planning permission was granted to turn parts of the former medieval Cluniac priory into 26 new homes, 15 new and 11 in converted buildings, in April this year.

Campaigners have won a temporary respite in their bid to save Thetford's historic Abbey Farm Barns from being converted into homes.

Planning permission was granted to turn parts of the former medieval Cluniac priory into 26 new homes, 15 new and 11 in converted buildings, in April this year.

But now the project has had to be put on ice and a public inquiry is to be held into H G Developments' scheme for the site off Monksgate in the town.

Because some of the site is Grade I listed, the secretary of state had the option to call the scheme in for review and has now decided it should go before a public inquiry.

The decision by the secretary of state was announced at Breckland Council's planning committee, which had approved the scheme earlier this year, on Monday.

Stuart Wilson, chairman of Thetford Society's environment committee, said the Planning Inspectorate would now have 22 weeks to set a date for a public inquiry.

“They are Grade I listed buildings of national importance, perhaps the weight of public opinion and support from amenity societies like the Ancient Monuments Society and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings has been felt,” he said.

“People in Thetford didn't want a residential development here, in a survey by Breckland 60pc said that. Hopefully with the public inquiry the truth will come out.”

The Society has long campaigned to have the site turned into a visitor centre and at the planning committee meeting in April put forward their ideas, including holiday homes, cycle hire and offices.

They were told to submit their own planning application, despite Breckland saying they thought it would be unfeasible.

Yesterday, Stuart Wright, chairman of Thetford Society, said they were delighted with the news.

Nick Moys, principal planning officer at Breckland, told Monday's committee: “"It is not longer open for the council to make a decision and the decision will be made by the secretary of state.”

He said the decision to take the application to public inquiry had taken the council by surprise after a previous planning application granted by them had not been called in.

This, however, was later taken to judicial review and the current application submitted in its place.

Mr Moys added that the secretary of state usually only called in decisions of national importance and he failed to see how that criteria applied to Abbey Barns.

The plans would see an unlisted barn on the list converted into six homes and two ranges of unlisted buildings demolished.

Two buildings on the site, Abbey Farm Cottages and abbey Farm Barn, are Grade 1 listed and said to be significant remains of medieval structures but are on English Heritage's register of buildings at risk.

Another part of the site is a Scheduled Listed Monument.

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