Document will shape Breckland future

It's a weighty tome which will help shape the way a huge area in the heart of Norfolk develops over the next 18 years. IAN CLARKE reports on the crucial document which will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the county.

It's a weighty tome which will help shape the way a huge area in the heart of Norfolk develops over the next 18 years. IAN CLARKE reports on the crucial document which will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the county.

Light bedtime reading it certainly isn't. A gripping, racy little number? No way.

The title of the 300-odd pages is a candidate for a perfect insomnia cure - Breckland's Local Development Framework Site Specific Policies and Proposals Issues and Options Consultation (with appendix on Thetford Area Action Plan).

But make no bones about it, the consultation which is about to get under way is among the most important exercises carried out in the five market towns and dozens of surrounding villages for many years.

Whether you live, work, shop, enjoy leisure pursuits or pass through the Breckland area - it will affect you.

Between now and 2026 about 15,000 new properties need to be built in the area which includes Thetford, Attleborough, Dereham, Swaffham and Watton and about 100 villages.

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Thetford has already been given so-called Growth Point Status and so has 6,000 homes - as well as 5,000 new jobs - earmarked to it.

As Thetford will undergo such major change, a separate document has been produced for the town outlining a range of options and questions for consideration covering things such as employment, shopping, open spaces, sporting facilities and public transport.

Attleborough - being on the A11 - is seen as the other major place for development and is in line for 4,000 more homes.

Other places given rough allocations over the next 18 years are Dereham (500-600), Swaffham (100-200), Watton (200-300), Shipdham (100) and Great Ellingham, Harling, Ellingham, Narborough, Swanton Morley and Weeting (all 50).

While those headline figures have been put forward, there is a huge debate to be had about which parts of the towns and villages will be built on.

All this dovetails into the wider picture of the government wanting 508,000 new homes in the region by 2021, with 80,000 of them in Norfolk.

Each council will be undertaking the same exercise as Breckland in terms of coming up with its own Local Development Framework.

For the first time this week, Breckland has published details of the 650 sites which have been put forward for possible development - far more than is needed.

The council asked for landowners and developers to put forward suggestions and they were inundated - from a 530- acre area of land in Attleborough to small parcels dotted around Breckland.

Of the 650, 370 have been deemed by planning officers to be “unreasonable” - meaning they are unlikely to be developed.

And a further 100 are “non-conforming” - meaning they would need to be altered before they could fall in line with guidelines.

Many of those regarded as “unreasonable” are in villages and that has sparked a plea from some councillors that some new developments be carried out in rural communities to allow them to survive.

The document is to be amended before it goes out for public consultation to make it clear that a further 3,000 homes could be created on so-called rural windfall sites - such as barn conversions.

Philip Cowen said: “Villages need to remain sustainable and are allowed to see growth over time.”

“Breckland is Breckland and is a rural community. If we followed the government's guidelines the only sustainable communities would be Thetford and Attleborough. We heard it from the Post Office and they considered an urban settlement to be 10,000 people.”

He said in many communities there were families who had lived there for many years and as children grew up and wanted their own homes, the communities needed to expand.

Development control committee chairman Elizabeth Gould agreed. “Villages should be given the chance to grow a bit.”

Ann Steward, Breckland cabinet member for the environment, stressed the process was at a very early stage and all communities would be given the chance to have their say and help shape their own future.

Part of the process will be looking at so-called settlement boundaries, which dictate how far villages can expand.

Breckland's environmental planning manager, Andrea Long, said officers had already visited many parish councils and there had been a real mix of views about whether rural communities wanted more growth or none at all.

Shirley Howard-Alpe said there would be “absolute panic” in Attleborough over the 4,000 homes proposed there.

Breckland's cabinet will discuss the draft strategies for Breckland as a whole and Thetford specifically next Tuesday and public consultation is due to start later this month.

In Thetford, local people will be given six weeks from June 23 to respond to the document.

A total of 12,000 leaflets on the Thetford proposals will be sent to local households.

Public meetings are being held across the district. Meetings are being held to cover various parishes: Today, Mundford and Beetley; June 7, Old and New Buckenham; June 10, Dereham; June 12, Yaxham and Saham Toney; June 16, Garboldisham; June 18, Litcham, Beeston and the Dunhams; June 25, Attleborough; July 1, Gressenhall and Longham; July 2, Brisley and Mid Forest parishes; July 7, Weeting, Narborough and Bawdeswell; July 8, Carbrooke; July 9, North Lopham; July 10, Croxton; July 14, Hilborough; July 15, Whinburgh and Westfield; July 17, Watton; July 21, Wayland parishes; July 23, Shropham; July 28, Rocklands.