Dereham mayor speaks out over ‘hostile’ housing applications
© Archant Norfolk 2014
A controversial housing scheme on the edge of Dereham has been recommended for approval – prompting the town mayor to launch a scathing attack on a planning system which he says has opened the door to “hostile” development applications.
MP’s planning viewpoint
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said a number of residents had raised concerns with him about the Hopkins Homes proposals, in particular around the impact on congestion and access to schools and NHS surgeries.
He said: “Whilst Dereham needs investment and growth for jobs and prosperity to keep the town vibrant, it is crucial that new development also has the necessary infrastructure: the schools, NHS facilities and parking to ensure the town can thrive. For too long the planning system has seen development as something done to towns and communities, rather than something done for and by local people.
“All too often the planning system has been driven by developers and lawyers pushing large-scale developments. What we need is local councils to be able to come up with a long term town plan, and then developers be invited to build in accordance with it. That is why the government introduced the Localism Act – to give local neighbourhoods and councils much more control over local planning and
new powers to create town plans which I’m delighted that Breckland Council are now working on for Dereham.”
Hopkins Homes plans to build 255 houses, 40% of which would be affordable homes, on farmland to the east of Yaxham Road, south of Dumpling Green.
The scheme has attracted a significant volume of objections from local people, with concerns including the impact on road congestion, capacity at doctors’ surgeries, and overcrowded classes in Toftwood and Yaxham junior schools.
And it has prompted Dereham mayor Tim Birt to say he is concerned for his town’s future.
The site is outside the defined settlement boundaries and is not allocated for housing within the district’s local development framework, but planners have recommended the application should be approved when Breckland Council’s planning committee meets on Monday.
An officer’s report to the committee says, because the district does not have a five-year supply of housing sites, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) dictates that the authority must “consider favourably sustainable development that would address that deficit”.
The report says: “The site is in a sustainable location, close to existing facilities and local employment. The requirements of the NPPF, the presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the identified benefits from the development outweigh other material considerations, including any identified harmful impacts, and the proposed development can be accepted as a departure from normal policy.”
Dereham mayor Tim Birt said he has lost confidence in the planning system, and was concerned for his town’s future.
He said “The Hopkins Homes application is such a ‘hostile’ application – it is outside the settlement boundary, was not included as part of the local development framework and there is overwhelming opposition from residents and the town council.”
Mr Birt said the plan, if approved, would “represent a number of significant challenges to the infrastructure of Dereham, which will have a significantly detrimental effect on existing town residents”.
Those include the impact on congestion and highway safety, particularly in the light of the McDonald’s development taking shape near the Yaxham Road roundabout, and the implications for GP surgeries and schools which are already over-subscribed.
He said: “These issues are relevant to the current ‘hostile’ planning application at Dumpling Green but will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. I recognise a need for more housing for a growing population, these should be provided in a carefully planned way which enhances rather than damages the quality of life of the existing residents.”
Robin Goreham, a town and district councillor, added to the calls for the application to be refused, saying it would have “a dramatic and highly detrimental impact on the town of Dereham, its infrastructure and its people.”
A spokesman for Hopkins Homes said the lack of new housing built in Attleborough and Thetford since 2010 meant the district needed to look for the most suitable other locations in order to make up the deficit.
“Clearly, as the administrative centre and second-largest town within the district, Dereham is the most sustainable other location,” she said.
“The proposals will deliver over 100 new affordable homes, together with over four hectares of new public open space within an attractive, landscaped setting, whilst as part of the proposals, we are proposing substantial financial contributions towards education and transport, together with highway and footway improvements locally. Both the Highway Agency and NCC Highways are accepting of the proposals, whilst no objections have been received from any of the health services.
“To this end, we consider that the proposals are sensitively planned to accommodate the future growth of the town in a highly sustainable manner, which will enhance the overall quality of life for both existing and future residents of the town.”
A spokesperson for Breckland Council said key agencies including the Environment Agency, Anglian Water, the Highways Agency, and Norfolk County Council were consulted on all applications to construct new houses, and that the planning committee would take into account the views of local residents and businesses when making its decision.
The planning committee meeting is at 9.30am on Monday at Breckland Council’s offices in Elizabeth House on Walpole Loke in Dereham.