Fears for Dereham’s open spaces

Dereham councillors have voiced 'grave concerns' over the possible loss of valuable pieces of green open space in the town.

Breckland Council is embarking on the third phase of its Active Land Management process, which aims to find the most effective ways of disposing of surplus council-owned sites around the district.

It has written to the town council outlining its intentions to reappraise the future use of land at Waples Way and Howlett Close on the Moorgate Road estate, and Castell Road behind the old swimming pool.

It suggests the land could be put to various new uses, including affordable housing, community projects, leisure or recreational use.

But the proposals have met with strong opposition from members of Dereham Town Council, who say the public spaces should be preserved for their recreational value.

A response letter from Dereham town clerk Tony Needham also highlights that all the sites were deemed 'not suitable' for development in a Green Infrastructure Study in 2008.

Mr Needham's letter says: 'Councillors have grave concerns regarding the possible loss of these pieces of land, all of which form pieces of open space in an increasingly urbanised setting.

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'The value which all these spaces have in relation to amenity, recreation and leisure, far outweigh any benefit which would accrue from a small number of affordable housing units.'

The town council's response also queries why the biodiversity value of the areas is not listed among the evaluation criteria, despite the wildlife and amenity benefits having been identified in the Green Infrastructure Study.

Town councillor Robin Goreham, who is also leader of the opposition Labour group at Breckland Council, said: 'I am amazed they're even contemplating this.

'The Howlett Close site is a tiny triangular piece of grass which has been an open space since the Moorgate estate was built in the 1950s. It provides a 'green lung' which is a bit of respite so people are not looking at concrete everywhere. It should remain so.

'The one on Waples Way was a disused railway which we used to use as a nature walk when I was a child. I am not opposed to the principle of maximising assets, but that does not mean maximising them financially. There are other benefits to the people of Breckland and in these cases it is amenity.'

The sites are due to be determined by Breckland's ruling cabinet on July 26.

Mark Kiddle-Morris, executive member for asset management at Breckland Council, said: 'Active Land Management is an open and transparent process which is designed to ensure that all the council's land assets are managed is a way which best benefits all residents within Breckland.

'An independent assessor gives us a land value based on usages from open market housing to public open space and anything in between and it is our duty as a public accountable body to obtain best value for the land after all the constraints to any such use, including town and parish comments, have been fully examined.

'Members of the public are welcome to attend the meeting where the decision on these pieces of land will be made.'

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