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Residents in Caston, near Watton, rally to protect their cherished village green

PUBLISHED: 11:03 14 September 2011

Residents campaigning in Caston against Breckland Council's plans to build two homes on their village green area. Picture: Ian Burt

Residents campaigning in Caston against Breckland Council's plans to build two homes on their village green area. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2011

Residents in a Norfolk village are fighting to save their tiny communal green from development by their local authority.

Families in Caston, near Watton, are distraught by Breckland Council’s plans to squeeze two new homes on the grassy patch in front of their homes in Coronation Terrace.

The 625 metres squared plot, off Attleborough Road, was created when the houses were built in 1953 and has been used as an informal village green for generations since then.

Under the watchful eye of neighbours, more than 20 children and teenagers regularly play on the precious space and community barbecues are also held there during the summer.

“It’s going to have a devastating affect on the community,” said parish councillor David Blincow. “There is nowhere else for children to play safely.”

Another resident, Helen Maxwell said: “It’s a beautiful green area as you come into the village – it’s going to look terrible. It’s all right for the Conservatives to say they are empowering people, but when we say we don’t want something the council has to listen.”

The plans, for a pair of two-bedroom semi-detached homes, has also come under criticism from district council officers.

Breckland’s historic buildings officer says the area “should remain as a public open space,” while the tree and countryside officer concludes “It is hard to conceive of a less a less appropriate space for development.”

The site was selected for development when the council embarked on the first phase of its Active Land Management process, which aims to find the most effective ways of disposing with the surplus council-owned sites scattered across Breckland.

A similar fight rages in Dereham

Dereham residents hope Town Green status will save a cherished open space threatened with development.

The area behind the swimming pool in Castell Road has long been used for recreation and more than 200 residents, including dog walkers, have already signed a petition to save it.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman has agreed to meet local people and will be visiting the site – a public open space since the houses were built in 1972 – at 3.34pm on September 30.

“Despite overwhelming local opposition to the development of the land, Breckland Council is continuing to investigate building on this site,” said campaign leader Fred Abrahams.

“One way of preventing the development of this land is to apply to have it registered as a Town Green. It would then have a similar designation to that of Common Land and nobody would be able to build on it ever again.”

To get the area registered, there need to be proof that it has been used for recreation and pastimes for more than 20 years.

Mr Abrahams is collecting questionnaires from local people so he can compile evidence of how the land has been used over nearly four decades.

The Castell Road site is one of three that has been suggested for development as part of third phase of Breckland Council’s Active Land Management scheme.

Planning applications for six other sites selected as part of the process are due to be considered by the authority’s planning department over the next few weeks.

They include plans for 13 homes at Burghwood Drive in Mileham, near Dereham, two houses at Ketts Hill, in Necton near Swaffham and two houses in South Street at Great Dunham, near Swaffham.

Dereham town councillors were due to discuss the issue at a meeting yesterday.

As well as the loss of trees and a long-standing village amenity, Caston residents are objecting to the scheme for practical reasons - not least the size of the site.

“It’s ridiculous,” said cllr Blincow. “The houses are going to be little rabbit hutches.”

Residents already struggle to park in Coronation Terrace and fear the new houses – with only two new parking spaces – will exacerbate existing parking and access problems.

A busy BT telephone exchange on the green- referred to as an “electrical substation” in the planning application - also adds pressure, with up to four vans visiting the site each day, campaigners say.

Attleborough Road is known as a speeding hot-spot in the village and resident Graham Penfold said creating another two driveways was “an accident waiting to happen.”

“If you can get away with building houses on here then you can build on a central reservation – that’s essentially what it is,” he said.

To add insult to injury, Breckland was in the process of giving the land – including another rectangular patch opposite – to Caston Parish Council until it was selected as part of the Active Land Management scheme last year.

The village had secured funding from Awards for All to cover the legal costs of the transfer – a condition of the gift- but the money had to be returned when the deal fell through in the latter stages.

Breckland has offered residents the second patch of grass – a tapered rectangle – but mother Denise Warren, a teaching assistant at the village school, said it was not safe for children to play on.

Mark Kiddle-Morris, executive member for assets and strategic development at Breckland, said; “The council is tasked with gaining best possible use from public land at its disposal, both in terms of value and use. The council is seeking planning permission for a pair of semi-detached houses to be built on one parcel of land in Caston village but has offered the land adjacent to Coronation Terrace to the parish.

“In the event that planning consent cannot be secured the council will reconsider the decision to transfer the land to the parish.

“Considerations such as loss of open space, highways, proximity to other dwellings and any other considerations that are relevant in planning terms will be taken into account as part of the statutory planning permission process.”

Breckland is due to discuss the application at a meeting on October 3.

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