Neighbours are gearing up to fight “hammer and tongs” against a proposed new town in mid-Norfolk which could have more than 8,000 residents.

What would be Norfolk’s first new town in centuries could see up to 5,000 homes built on farming land between the villages of North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, north of Dereham.

The possible settlement has been dubbed the ‘Norfolk Railway Village’, as there are also plans to bring the nearby Mid Norfolk Railway - currently a heritage line - back into the commuter rail network.

But locals are furious the idea is back on the table, after an earlier plan for a town on the site was rejected in 2018.

Jennie Borgnis, chairman of North Elmham Parish Council, said she objected “in the strongest possible terms” to the proposal.

Mrs Borgnis said: “The consultation process hasn’t opened but when it does, we will go at it hammer and tongs and put forward our views.

"The railway is a single track, and the idea that anybody in this new proposed development would use it as a commuter line is ludicrous.

"We also don’t think any commercial rail line would agree to run it as a commuter railway.”

Mrs Borgnis said North Elmham had banded together with other parish councils to fight off the ‘garden village’ proposal of up to 10,000 homes on the site in 2018, and would likely do so again to fight off this plan.

She said: “It is the wrong place for so many houses. It’s not on a trunk road for a start.

"It’s an environmentally sensitive area being so close to the River Wensum, and it’s the wrong side of Dereham and of Norwich. It’s a non-starter.”

John Labouchere, 85, who is leader of planning at the same council and has lived in Norfolk almost his entire life, added: “It’s all good farming land.

"The fact is, the infrastructure isn’t up to it - Norfolk isn’t up to it.”

Although no planning application has yet gone in, a document submitted to Breckland Council claims construction could start within five years of permission being granted.

It estimates that some 500 homes could be built each year, meaning that it would take about a decade for the entire town to be built.

Of the homes, 25pc would be classed as ‘affordable’ and 75pc sold at market rates.

Michael Davies, chairman of nearby Billingford Parish Council, also rallied against the idea.

Mr Davies said: “This is mainly an agricultural, food production area, and it would be using up very valuable land.

"My personal feeling is it’s not a good idea to convert agricultural land for dwellings.

"There are a lot of brownfield sites around Norfolk that could be used, if there was the will to do so.”

Mr Davies said the thought of using the Mid Norfolk Railway line for regular services had sparked “a lot of amusement”, and thought there was no possibility of it happening.

Bill Borrett, a Breckland district and Norfolk county councillor who lives in the nearby village of Hoe, said: “We’ll do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t go ahead.”

Mr Borrett said he was “extremely disappointed” the idea of building on the site had come up again.

He said: “We made a lot of good and clear points about why it was an unsuitable site last time around.

"The site is not suitable for such massive development. There’s no services there, there’s high landscape value, it is completely the wrong place.”

George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP, said a report in this newspaper on October 8 was the first had heard of the plans since the last bid was rejected by Breckland Council on the basis of inadequate transport links.

Mr Freeman said: “Any proposal will rightly have to go through the planning process.

"I’ll look carefully at the plans and talk to residents and elected local councillors.

“But the key for me will be a minimising loss of ancient woodland and high quality farmland, a serious commitment to net zero housing and serious investment in public and private transport infrastructure - North Elmham rail, cycle, bus and road - links.”