Rare bird could affect housing plans

A rare bird is set to dictate where homes can and cannot be built in one of the fastest growing areas of Norfolk.The migratory stone curlew is a protected species with just 347 breeding pairs estimated in the country in 2007, two thirds of those in Breckland and the rest at the MOD-owned Salisbury Plain.

A rare bird is set to dictate where homes can and cannot be built in one of the fastest growing areas of Norfolk.

The migratory stone curlew is a protected species with just 347 breeding pairs estimated in the country in 2007, two thirds of those in Breckland and the rest at the MOD-owned Salisbury Plain.

Now the bird's Norfolk home is set to be protected by a new planning rule banning building on large swathes of land around Thetford - a town which has been hailed as a growth point with 6,000 new homes planned up to 2021.

A buffer zone of 1,500m is to be placed around parts of the EU designated Breckland Special Protected Area (which covers 40,000ha), a habitat in the district preferred by the shy creature.


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Building will also be limited to the north of the town, but not beyond the A11, according to a report to Breckland Council's full council meeting on Thursday.

It is not yet clear how much this will effect proposed new development in and around Thetford.

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But the policy has already had an impact on one village at the centre of the protected area.

Weeting was meant to be designated a service village for growth under the council's new planning blueprint, now the growth element, and a proposed 50 new homes for the village, has had to be scrapped because of the bird and flood risk areas, the report says.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Weeting Heath, near the village, is known as one of the best places to spot the bird.

Andrea Long, Breckland's, forward planning officer, said: “Once you apply the buffer zone it includes a lot of villages.

“It does narrow down the options for Thetford but we can still deliver what we are being asked to for the growth point.

“There are things that can take place in the buffer zone, infill in built up areas or barn conversions for example or sites shielded from the SPA.

“It is not a blanket stop but a very clear indication within that zone that there could be an impact and the onus will be on the developer to prove there will be no harm to the species.”

She said work looking more closely at specific sites which may or may not be built on will be carried out next year.

Mary Norden, from the charity RSPB, welcomed the policy and said it was supported by them and Natural England.

“We are really pleased they are recognising the importance of the Brecks for this important bird,” she said.

Numbers of the bird dwindled to about 130 breeding pairs in the 1960s from 1,300 breeding pairs recorded during the 1900s.

They nest on the ground in summer, spending the winter in Africa until late March.

Other birds to be protected under the policy are woodlark and nightjar, also recognised in the Breckland SPA.

The new policy is to be introduced through Breckland's new so-called local development framework, a blueprint setting out policy on planning up to 2026.

A consultation on the care strategy of the document is due to be launched early in the New Year.

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