Analysis: Dereham's problem with open space

Land that's for sale at Etling Green, Dereham.
Byline: Sonya Duncan

One of the fields the council is considering purchasing, between the Neatherd and Etling Green. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Despite its location in the heart of Norfolk, Dereham has a problem when it comes to the availability of open space. 

“One of the paradoxes is that although we’re in a rural area of the country, there’s not only a shortage of sports and play space... but also formal parks,” councillor Harry Clarke pointed out at Tuesday’s meeting of the town council’s recreation committee.

Harry Clarke, Labour councillor for Dereham. Photo: Harry Clarke

"There’s not only a shortage of sports and play space... but also formal parks,” councillor Harry Clarke pointed out. - Credit: Archant

A large part of the issue is that developers do not always provide all of the open space that they could when building a new set of houses - instead giving the community a sum of money to be used on local education, health services, libraries, improving existing open spaces, or acquiring new ones.

While such funds are always useful for a town to have, they are usually a less effective substitute when it comes to tackling the problem of open spaces failing to keep up with a growing population. 

In addition to the general lack of open space, Dereham suffers from a north/south divide in terms of children’s play space - exacerbated by the A47 cutting Toftwood off from the rest of the town.

If the land between the Neatherd Moor and Etling Green is purchased, this inequality would worsen.

A recent assessment commissioned by the town council found that, largely thanks to the Neatherd, the town’s northeast has about 60x the amount of outdoor space as the town’s southeast.

Dereham town clerk Tony Needham said the keyfobs would cost about £1,000. Picture: Matthew Usher.

“Between 2007-2015, the deficit of outdoor playing space in Dereham increased by over one hectare per year,” said town clerk, Tony Needham, at a March meeting of Breckland District Council's planning committee.

Town clerk Tony Needham has previously pointed out that “Dereham has the biggest deficit in outdoor playing space of any parish in Breckland… over 31 hectares. That is 23% of the overall Breckland deficit.”

He added: “Between 2007-2015, the deficit of outdoor playing space in Dereham increased by over one hectare per year.”

The town council is taking steps to address the shortage, and to improve play provision already in the town. In May, the council dedicated £200,000 to improving five of the town’s play spaces.

They also agreed to adopt the open space provided by Persimmon Homes at their upcoming Foxley Park development, where 100 homes will be built on land east of Westfield Road.