Abbey Barns inquiry closes

Rebecca Gough A public inquiry into the future of a Grade I-listed set of buildings in Thetford drew to a close yesterday as parties on all sides outlined their concerns.

Rebecca Gough

A PUBLIC inquiry into the future of a Grade I-listed set of buildings in Thetford drew to a close on Wednesday as parties on all sides outlined their concerns.

Campaigners fighting to stop a housing development on the ancient monument site of Abbey Barns off Monksgate spoke about their fear of losing a valued historical and educational monument.

While applicants HG Developments argued that their proposal for 26-home redevelopment had taken into account the site's heritage, and was a chance to keep the buildings in use.

Keith Genis, 58, who owns HG Developments with his partner Julian Higgins, said the idea of a commercial venture on the 15th century site had been looked into but was not financially viable.

“Since we bought the building we've met with all the major parties and designed a scheme that utilises the building and maintains its charm,” he said.

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“We believe changing it to a residential use would serve the residents much better and serve the buildings for future use.”

Proposals to turn Abbey Barns into 26 homes were approved by Breckland Council last year, despite objections from local people and heritage groups. But the decision was quashed by the High Court after Breckland made a mistake in the planning process and a public inquiry was ordered.

Neighbour to the site, Harry Godfrey, of Monksgate, said he was “an ordinary person, speaking for the ordinary people of Thetford” and was proud to live in the area.

He added: “When you get close up and see the work that was put into the building when it was first erected; it's amazing. That building went up in the days when all that woodwork would have been done by hand.

“They (Breckland Council) know we don't want a housing development on that site but they still chose to override us.

“The people of Thetford take pride in their town.”

Nick Moys, Breckland's principle planning officer added that Breckland understood the feelings of local people and said: “I think it's a very difficult issue generally because when people express a view and the council make a decision to the contrary it's often said the council ignored the views.

“In this case, because of the extent of local feeling the council actually went further than it would normally do by publishing the consultation documents.”

The two-day inquiry ended with closing statements from the Thetford Society, the Ancient Monument Society, Breckland Council and the applicant, who all summed up the arguments heard throughout the inquiry.

All sides have now been heard by planning inspector Tim Wood, who will produce a report to the secretary of state recommending whether or not to grant permission for the 26-home development.

It is not known how long a final decision will take.