Future of historic Thetford site in the spotlight

Rebecca Gough The future of a Grade I listed site in the heart of Thetford came under scrutiny yesterday during the first day of a public inquiry.

Rebecca Gough

The future of a grade I-listed site in the heart of Thetford came under scrutiny yesterday during the first day of a public inquiry.

Proposals to turn Abbey Barns into 26 homes were approved last year, despite objections from local people and heritage groups.

But the decision was quashed by the High Court and a public inquiry was ordered.

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

Mr Wood's recommendation will be based on issues such as the suita-bility of the development considering its grade-I status, the architectural and historical value and whether, if permission is granted, any restrictions should be placed on it.

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The inquiry, expected to last three days, heard from a number of representatives who objected to the site being redeveloped in the way proposed by HG Developments.

Much of the day, at Thetford's Carnegie Room, was taken up with those who voiced concerns about the loss of a significant historical and educational site.

Speaking for the Ancient Monument Society, Anthony Rossi accused Breckland Council of being "dismissive, verging on negligent" with regard to its treatment of Abbey Barns.

He said: "There can be no doubt that we're dealing with buildings of the greatest significance and think it's clear we're dealing with a site of exceptional interest.

"In this case I accept the applicant has tried to protect the historical fabric, but I fear the damage likely to be caused to the character of the buildings to be unacceptable."

The Thetford Society put forward nine speakers, who ranged from neighbours of the site to the chairman, Stuart Wright.

Mr Wright, also a town councillor, said the society had simply not had the means to purchase the site.

He added, however, that a new proposal was being put forward by the Thetford Society to turn it into an educational and historical centre, and funding was being sought.

"The society and I have been concerned about the site for many years," he said. "Thetford is waking up to itself as a tourist destination and I think that as a society we've finally realised we cannot rely on Breckland to do everything we wish and the town has to do things itself."

The proposal put forward by the society included a set of three holiday lets, an open-air display area and a sensory garden. Mr Wright added he would be keen to discuss the chance for the society to buy the site from HG Developments.

The day ended with a representation from English Heritage which voiced no concerns about the housing scheme. It had previously turned down the chance to buy Abbey Barns.

The public inquiry continues. See the EDP for further coverage and log on to www.edp24.co.uk for regular updates.