Sticking a “green” label on planning schemes doesn’t make them worthy

Fourses under a Norfolk hedge – will such delights make a comeback as “garden” village and town prop

Fourses under a Norfolk hedge – will such delights make a comeback as “garden” village and town proposals multiply? - Credit: Archant

The plots thicken! Yes, I refer to that dramatic growth of garden-garnished proposals for larger developments across an already-beleaguered Norfolk.

While some will prove to be little more than kite-flying exercises to see just how green local councillors and their advisors can be, it's clear we are in for a lengthy charm offensive from landowners, builders and planners.

They can bask in government backing for the general idea of 'garden towns' and 'garden villages' as well as in the afterglow of winning unlikely big battles such as getting the nod to plonk a thousand houses on the old Royal Norwich Golf Club course at Hellesdon.

They will point out this concept is nothing new. Welwyn Garden City sprang to life nearly a century ago, not long after another Hertfordshire community in Letchworth became the first to embrace high ideals to create places covering the benefits of city and countryside – but to avoid the disadvantages of both.

They may even argue that new villages and towns wearing the 'garden' tag must be preferable to more ugly sprawl around so many of our existing communities. It's a useful debating point as Swaffham marches on towards Cockley Cley, Wymondham looks to embrace Hethersett and a few others and Aylsham is building its way to North Walsham.

However, that argument's a bit rich coming from any developers, landowners or planners already involved in schemes destined to make hideous inroads into Norfolk's precious environment simply because of national pressure pumped up by constantly exaggerated claims about a housing crisis.

That drum continues to be beaten frantically across the country with Norfolk resistance being tested to the limit. For example, the Greater Norwich Local Plan includes over 200 new sites pushed forward for potential development.

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Plenty there for residents affected to chew over with parish, district and county councillors. Sadly, most of our MPs appear totally oblivious to what's going on. Just like the majority of people who don't vote for them or anyone else.

One of the 'plum' items on that Greater Norwich list is a 'garden village' of 6,500 homes on farmland in Silfield, near Wymondham, heralded by the landowner as 'an exciting opportunity to comprehensively plan a large, mixed-use and well-connected site on the A11 corridor'.

It's a fair bet many of these new residents would be full-time commuters. So, it seems fair even at this stage to flag up more pollution noise, congestion and obvious lack of community cohesion as most likely by-products of such a venture. And it might be necessary to call such a new 'village' by a new name – like 'Fillfield'.

It's also likely that those behind the failed bid to create a 'garden town' of 10,000 houses at the heart of what we can still call rural Norfolk will return with 'more realistic and moderate' proposals before the current building bonanza hits a brick wall.

Meanwhile, many others will dig into the 'garden' handbook to cultivate their ideas into something that sound less threatening. My fear is this 'getting back to cosy nature' flavour will permeate through to the smallest of development plots.

How about a 'homely hamlet' of eight bungalows on an allotment or a 'pretty parish' of thatched cottages on the edge of any unhindered green space left when our housing crisis is deemed done and dusted?

Well, it's long been a fetish of developers and those who pay them homage to name big estates and roads serving them after much-loved adornments sent packing by concrete mixers and bulldozers.

You find your way around The Pastures by negotiating Chestnut Drive, Buttercup Close, Badger Mews, Lilac Way, Hemlock Avenue, Catkin Court and Primrose Lane. The social centre is called Partridge Place where Golden Threads Club members recall school nature study rambles and early-morning mushroom picking.

Local history groups put on displays of old photos highlighting futility rites like Talkin' To Your Neighbours, Mardlin' On The Green, Swappin' Runner Beans For A Dozen Eggs and Eatin' Fourses Under The Hedge.

There has to be a fusion of past and present as Norfolk squares up to challenges of change just like everywhere else. Even so, a worthwhile future cannot be built on policies much more to do with greed and blandness than genuine local need and character.

Sticking a 'green' label on planning schemes doesn't make them worthy. Let's stop being a soft touch tamely led up the development garden path.