What will happen if 300 homes are built on treasured Thorpe woodland?

Thorpe Woods proposed housing area.

Thorpe Woods proposed housing area. - Credit: Mike Page

The appeal of an area of woodland on the edge of Norwich, known as the Racecourse Plantation, varies greatly depending on who you speak to.

While campaigners and developers both recognise the attraction of the site off Plumstead Road East, neither can agree on the best way to utilise it.

For people living nearby, the land, which forms part of Thorpe Woods, is a tranquil and ecologically important space which should be left untouched.

But for developers, Socially Conscious Capital (SCC), it is an area of private land which could be vastly improved as part of its new 300-home scheme.

The northern side of the 70-hectare stretch of woodland, called the Racecourse Plantation, is made up of thousands of native and non-native trees.

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And it is within this area that SCC is seeking to build the new homes on behalf of landowners, The Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust.

Andrew Simpson, a planner for the developers, said a number of improvements would be made to the woodland as part of the scheme.

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They include a new woodland park, the retention of the woodland environment and improvements to local infrastructure, including 'the Trod' footpath.

He also stressed that the location of the new homes would be in a 10 hectare site already used for tree felling.

But Jason Beckett, spokesman for the Friends of Thorpe Woods - a group with more than 1,000 members - feared it would still have a significant impact on the area.

'Nobody wants this to go ahead apart from the trust and that has been made clear over the past six years,' he said.

'All of this will have a detrimental affect on the wildlife and local people don't have a problem with enjoying the area as it is now. People are not interested in the enhancement of these woods.'

Mr Beckett, 46, said the group also supported the area being used as a commercial woodland, as many of the felled trees were replanted.

The current landowners have a forestry licence that runs until 2023, allowing for the managed harvesting of timber from all three plantations.

But Mr Simpson said: 'The tree felling does remove many more trees from the site than a managed development would, resulting in a greater loss of trees than would otherwise be the case.

'Development will only take place on a small part of Racecourse Plantation, about 10 hectares of land, with the remaining 60 hectares being given over for recreation and nature conservation in perpetuity.

'The development area, which can accommodate up to 300 new homes, has been selected because of its low value habitats, consisting of conifer and mixed plantation woodland.'

What is being proposed alongside the houses?

Andrew Simpson, planner for SCC, said there would be a number of 'benefits' for the wider community from the development.

He explained a new woodland park would be created and owned by a community organisation run by local residents.

'The current plans are that Belmore Plantation will be managed for the provision of public recreation,' he said.

'Brown's Plantation will be managed for nature conservation given the presence of great crested newts, and the undeveloped part of Racecourse Plantation will be managed for a mix of habitat enhancement and recreation.'

Mr Simpson said long-term maintenance of the site would be financed by service charges to the new homeowners.

He added that the development would allow for the retention of the existing woodland environment, with important trees preserved and new trees planted as part of the landscaping of the site.

Meanwhile, Mr Simpson said contributions would be made to local infrastructure.

'We are particularly keen to improve the Trod, an informal pathway that runs along the south side of Plumstead Road and which is used by local people,' he added. There would also be better pedestrian and cycle access to the area, according to Mr Simpson.

On Friday, developers held an invitation-only meeting in Thorpe St Andrew which saw more than 50 protesters picket the building.

'We fear this is a Trojan Horse for further development,' said Mr Beckett.

'We were barred from the meeting but we are not interested in discussing building 300 houses on the wood at all.

'What we have always been supportive of is the woods being managed and maintained as woodland, which can still be done at a profit.'

Local councillors were invited to the meeting, but only Nigel Shaw attended, with Ian Mackie and John Fisher declining.

Are you concerned about a new development near you? Call Luke Powell on 01603 772684.

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