Hi-tech jobs part of £120m Thetford plan

IAN CLARKE Thetford is poised to become the hi-tech jobs capital of Norfolk under a £120m vision for the town's future. Leading politicians yesterday outlined their plans to turn the town into the “Cambridge of Norfolk” as part of a government-backed plan to build 5,000 new homes and create 6,000 new jobs in Thetford over the next 15 years.

IAN CLARKE

Thetford is poised to become the hi-tech jobs capital of Norfolk under a £120m vision for the town's future.

Leading politicians yesterday outlined their plans to turn the town into the “Cambridge of Norfolk” as part of a government-backed plan to build 5,000 new homes and create 6,000 new jobs in Thetford over the next 15 years.

Crucially, they also hope the biggest expansion of the town since the days of “London overspill” in the 1960s could also be the catalyst for the final section of the A11 to be dualled.

But the politicians behind the plans for Thetford's future have also vowed to learn the lessons of the past and pledged to involve the whole community in “getting it right”.

Last night Breckland Council leader William Nunn said: “Thetford is the gateway to Norfolk and what happens there could have the ripple effect for Norfolk and Breckland.

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“We have the possibility of bringing in improvements which we would not have dreamed of before.”

He spoke passionately about the potential for the town and described finishing the A11 dualling as “a necessity.”

Mr Nunn - who was among the senior regional politicians lobbying the minister for the eastern region minister Barbara Follett earlier this week - said Cambridge had attracted big businesses due to its good road links and it was a model Thetford could follow.

“People are working in Cambridge and living in Thetford. We need to get the transport right and then start drawing in the hi-tech businesses and we can also then bring in the services people deserve.”

Breckland Council is finalising a bid for £25.5m over the next three years from the government for infrastructure improvements such as bus and rail enhancements, road schemes, health facilities, more school places, town centre upgrades and green areas.

And as councillors threw their weight behind the “exciting opportunities” it emerged the overall amount which could be attracted to Thetford - and help boost other parts of the district - could rise to as much as £120m over six years.

Thetford is one of 29 places across the country granted Growth Point Status and the council should know by Christmas if the first application has been successful and could later bid for £30-40m more for the following three years.

Breckland's environmental planning manager Andrea Long said in addition to seeking government funding, a similar amount could be sought from other bodies and contributions from developers who will be building in Thetford.

She said there had been “positive feedback” from the communities and local government department in Whitehall and she stressed the funding would be new money for Thetford which would only be available as it has Growth Point Status.

Mr Nunn said: “If we get £8m a year that will attract more money. We should not have the blinkers on and we should be imaginative.”

Breckland Cabinet member Ann Steward said: “This is a very good and exciting opportunity for Thetford with that amount of funding and it will make a significant difference. It is a huge step forward in the right direction for Thetford.

“This is new money and if it was not for Growth Point we would not get it.”

She stressed there would be full consultation with people in Thetford “at every stage.”

Philip Cowen said it would be good news for the whole of Breckland as well as Thetford.

“This is allowing us to tap into funds which would not otherwise be available.”

John Rogers highlighted the need for more school places and said it was essential for them to be provided before families moved in.

David Williams said it was it was vital to learn from decisions made in the past which had led to problems in Thetford over the years following the “overspill” expansion in the 1960s.

Mrs Long said: “It is a key issue for the town. It is about the infrastructure for the new and existing communities.”

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