With logic like this, what hope can there be for Norfolk?

PUBLISHED: 08:53 30 June 2018

Denver Sluice: holding back the floods.... but the village can't hold back a flood of new houses.

Denver Sluice: holding back the floods.... but the village can't hold back a flood of new houses.

Archant 2018

A planning inspector's sentiments have Keith Skipper baffled.

I’ve spent enough happy hours in Downham Market and surrounding villages to elevate the standard “That bit on the edge of the Fens” label to something with a much more lyrical ring.

“There’s a lot of history about” makes a useful starting point for those prepared to push the poetic and purposeful above the predictably prosaic. I recall encouraging our lads when young to turn every journey into a little voyage of discovery.

They particularly enjoyed our safaris beyond Swaffham – “Be careful, Dad, or you’ll ruin your reputation” – and the Downham area yielded a rich crop of colourful characters and intriguing places. Like that scary wax effigy of Sarah Hare’s face gazing at you in Stow Bardolph Church.

We proved there were two Derehams in Norfolk and introduced Hubert Walter, one of the great medieval administrators. He was born in West Dereham, four miles south-east of Downham, and it’s still possible to trace remains of the monastery he founded there at Abbey Farm.

A call at Fincham parish church gave me a chance to praise the Rev Robert Forby, whose Vocabulary of East Anglia remains a constant source of delight and reference to dialect enthusiasts. He was Rector here during the first part of the 19th century.

Born in Stoke Ferry, he

went to school in King’s Lynn

and held livings at Barton Bendish and Wereham before moving to Fincham in 1801, holding the post until his death 24 years later. Every local dialect compilation since Forby’s

major effort, first published in 1830, has borne heavily on his scholarship.

Denver Windmill was an obvious attraction for young inquiring minds ready to survive father’s excruciating puns about “flour power” and “ if the cap fits”. The Great Denver Sluice, a triumphant example of modern engineering, brooked no such liberties – although it allowed me the chance to claim mastery of a foreign language.

I worked overtime to pronounce “Cornelius Vermuyden” correctly. The Dutchman built the first sluice here over 350 years ago as part of a scheme to drain fenlands owned by the Earl of Bedford, surely one of the boldest land reclamation programmes in history.

Much easier to announce “George Manby, prolific inventor”, born at Denver in 1765 and

buried in Hilgay churchyard a couple of miles away in 1854. He invented the rocket lifesaving apparatus as well as a chemical fire extinguisher, elastic sheets

for use at fires, harpoon for whaling and improved types

of lifeboats, howitzers and dredgers.

Perhaps echoes of the past carry far more charm right now than immediate prospects for the future in Denver after an appeal to build 300 new homes off Nightingale Lane has been won by developers despite strong opposition from villagers and West Norfolk Council.

The Grosvenor Partnership already had outline planning permission to build 170 houses on the land, but the company then applied to extend permission for up to 300. These plans were also refused by West Norfolk councillors before an independent planning inspector allowed the appeal.

Denver Parish Council chairman John Lane said: “I’m struggling to see where all the people to fill these houses would come from. All we can say is that we tried. There were not many people in the village in favour of it.”

The planning inspector said he saw no reason why the proposed development would necessarily affect the character and appearance of the area in a significant manner “beyond taking the site from being predominantly farmland to a developed residential area”.

I read that considered verdict from the inspector several times out loud to make sure I fully grasped the importance of such a contribution to one of the most crucial environmental arguments of our age,

It seems in this instance not only does overwhelming local opinion indicating these houses are neither needed nor wanted count for anything, but nothing will change except the little matter of swapping a few boring green acres for good old bricks and mortar.

How else can this inspector’s reasoning be interpreted? Far more inventive logic than any bright idea from George Manby. Surely beyond the scope of any Vermuyden land reclamation scheme or learned judgement from Hubert Walter. I’m sure Robert Forby would find a word for it and Sarah Hare produce a stare of disbelief.

The message is clear to all developers. With views like that in high places, think of a number, double it and keep appealing.

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