Councillors told to work with developers

Towns and villages across Norfolk were given the key to unlock millions of pounds worth of cash for new community centres, sports pavilions and schools yesterday.

Towns and villages across Norfolk were given the key to unlock millions of pounds worth of cash for new community centres, sports pavilions and schools yesterday.

The people of the county were told to embrace an unlikely ally at the Norfolk Planning Conference 2007 - the developer.

The message at the Swaffham-based event was that local people should no longer feel powerless to shape the growth of their towns and villages and at the mercy of profiteering builders throwing up new housing and overburdening infrastructure.

Nowhere is that more true than in Costessey, where the community has secured a "shopping list" of 18 facilities and provisions out of a 1,200 home development at Queen's Hills, including a new community centre, new school and playing fields.

John Amis, of Costessey Parish Council, said: "Making links with the developer is the best thing that we have done."

Scores of parish and town councillors at the conference were told to start drawing up their wishlist today and to work with major developers and planners from the earliest stages of a development.

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Fail to do so, the meeting heard, and there is a risk of going the way of Hunstanton, where town councillor Alan King said the new Tesco store and a recent major housing development had done "nothing" for the town.

Clerk to Costessey Parish Council Rachel Jackson said the council had been working with Michael Carpenter, the agent for the Queen's Hills development, since the mid 1990s and the development was only now being built.

She said: "Don't ever just throw things out and say 'We do not want this', build up a rapport with the developers and there may well be a way they can reconfigure it to make it more acceptable to you."

The parish council's involvement in shaping the development is continuing today, with its recent decision to combine the community centre and changing rooms into a superior single facility.

It scored a second windfall at a second development of 488 houses at Lodge Farm, where it secured a £500,000 replacement sports pavilion.

Area planning officer for South Norfolk Chris Trett explained how communities can unlock their share of a development.

First draw up a village or town plan of what is needed in the community and then work with the local planning department to get it incorporated into the Local Development Framework - a blueprint used to shape future growth in a district.

Then a town or parish council should work with any developer interested in a piece of land from as early a stage as possible and hammer out a legally binding section 106 agreement which will set the level of developer contributions.

These agreements should be reached with the help of local planners, who will ensure the wishlist meets the five reasonability tests.

Mr Trett sounded a note of warning that the government was considering introducing the planning gain supplement, where the section 106 contributions would be replaced by a set developer payment to central government, which it would be redistributed with 70pc going to a local pot and 30pc to regional infrastructure.

The conference was organised by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils and CPRE Norfolk president Tim O'Riordan gave the conference's final speech warning of the need for sustainable development.

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