Special report: Can Norfolk cope with tens of thousands of extra homes?
- Credit: Chris Bishop
Tens of thousands more homes will be built in Norfolk over the next two decades - but major concerns are being raised over whether roads, health services and schools will be able to cope with swelling populations.
The government has committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020s and Norfolk is expected to take its share of those homes.
Greater Norwich alone is due to have almost 50,000 extra homes by 2038 - a mix of some already built, some with permission but yet to be built and some yet to be allocated.
Blueprints by councils, known as local plans, are supposed to ensure the homes are supported by the necessary infrastructure.
But as our special report has found, in towns and villages across Norfolk, concerns have been raised that improvements to services are not keeping up with growing numbers of people.
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"I think the planning system is a bit broken when it comes to allowing new development."
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So says Phil Hardy, who has lived in Hethersett for more than 40 years and has watched the village expand enormously in that time.
The village has grown so much that the village's Humbleyard Practice surgery is struggling to cope with the number of people who want its services - and that is before even more homes are built.
The latest version of the Greater Norwich Local Plan - a blueprint for where homes should be built between now and 2038 - does not propose any more homes for the village.
But there are still some 1,000 new homes due to be built there, after they were allocated in previous blueprints.
That comes on top of some 300 homes which have been constructed over the past two years.
Persimmon Homes and Taylor Wimpey, which has built a few hundred of the 1,196 homes off Back Lane, on the north side of the village eight years ago, recently announced it wanted to add an extra 200 homes on that site.
Mr Hardy, who represents the village on South Norfolk Council, said that bid is being opposed, but even without it, action needs to be taken to ensure people can get to see their GP.
In the summer, he, other councillors, parish councillors and community groups wrote a letter to their MP Richard Bacon, health secretary Sajid Javid and NHS England, warning of the dire situation.
NHS England has since confirmed there has been meetings over the possible building of a new surgery on land in the village.
Mr Hardy said that was an important step and he and others would keep up the pressure.
He said: "We have had so much development. The population is going to have gone up from 6,000 to 10,000 in just a short space of time."
It was not as if nobody saw this coming. Back in 2013, a doctors' surgery was earmarked as part of the Hethersett North development, but was later removed from the plans.
And John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said the council had previously offered to get a new surgery built which could be leased back to the practice - but that was not taken up.
He said: "As a district council and planning authority we have done everything by the book. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."A similar arrangement led to the move for the Windmill surgery in Wymondham moving to expanded premises more than a decade ago.
A spokesperson for NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group said: “The CCG has been supporting the Humbleyard Practice in its discussions about its premises and future plans, and will continue to do so.”
Hundreds of extra homes are being forced without proper consultation on an historic market town, according to local councillors.
More than 500 new houses could be built in Aylsham over the next 15 years as part of the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP), which would see 250 built on land south of Burgh Road and a further 255 on a site off Norwich Road.
Trevor Bennett, chairman of Aylsham Town Council, said: "The rapid growth over the last five years has created problems within the town and a fear that Aylsham is being treated as a dormitory town of Norwich."
Between 2011 and 2019, the town's population increased to nearly 8,700 mainly through developments off Henry Page Road, the old hospital site, Bure Meadows and Willow Park.
Originally, the GNLP proposed that Aylsham would have one site of 300 houses, but that number has been bumped up to 550, with the additional development mooted for Norwich Road.
Mr Bennett said: "There is no need to increase the number of new homes from 300 to 550 other than to satisfy the profits of developers."
He added that Broadland District Council did not consult with the three district councillors for Aylsham or the Town Council.
"At no point were there discussions with the town council of potential changes," he said.
Sue Catchpole, Broadland District councillor for the town, said: "In my view, there should be one more development in the next fifteen years, not two. We need small homes for young people starting out and elderly people hoping to downsize.
"The infrastructure problems are very real. And a junior school is needed."
On Tuesday afternoon (October 5), Willow Park, a development off Cawston Road, was quiet.
Resident Ryan Barney, 25, said he likes living there and the neighbours are nice but that public transport to the town centre is "non-existent".
The first phase of a 30-year plan to build a large 5,000 home development is underway in Thetford, but community members have said more needs to be done to involve the community.
The KingsFleet development, also referred to as the Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE), will be taking place in five stages, with the first phase currently underway.
The development, which was first approved in 2015, is taking place on the northern edge of Thetford, with homes being built up to the A11 bypass. It also includes the build of three primary schools, open space and community and health care facilities.
But with the town set to expand, community members have said more should be done to involve people in the development process.
Councillors have said one of the main concerns within the town is dentistry and doctor services, and the impact development will have on local infrastructure.
Councillor Terry Jermy said: "We're in phase one at the moment and there's something like 80 properties occupied at the moment, and lots more nearing completion.
"More needs to be done to improve infrastructure, we've seen decline in public services generally over the last few years and that's regardless of any increase in population."
Asked if the community is listened to in big developments, he said: "No, not at all. I believe in empowering communities and making sure their voices are heard and that doesn't happen nearly enough."
Gez Chetal, owner of the Thomas Paine Hotel, said authorities needed to listen more to local people.
He added: "Decisions can't be made just at council level. My staff said you never know what happens because these decisions are made at council level and then you find out afterwards."
Breckland councillor Roger Atterwill, who sits on the planning committee, said there is frustration in communities up and down the districts who "aren't listened to in terms of planning".
He added: "Planning should be more community led rather than developer led, communities should have a much bigger say in how their town or village grows.
"I think in a lot of cases housing development is something that is done to communities and not with communities and that's a big problem.
"We've got a situation where we've been sent targets from central government as to what we've got to achieve. And I think that's the wrong way of approaching it, we need as a county to decide what we need and engage and consult with our communities on that."
But councillor Jane James, who also runs a bookstore in Thetford, believes the community is heard, referring to the work that the Greater Thetford Development Partnership has been doing.
Dubbed ‘Little London’ for its fine Georgian architecture, Hingham is a small town of less than 3,000 people nestled between the larger towns of Dereham, Watton, Wymondham and Attleborough.
“We’re an eighteenth century town in many ways,” said town council chairman Peter Eldridge.
“And we have absorbed a large number of houses over the years in small clumps, but the infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with it.”
Five years ago, 88 new homes were erected on the town’s eastern edge, and a further 100 are allocated to go up in the town under the Greater Norwich Local Plan.
But Hingham already has several issues to contend with under its current population.
A lack of adequate footpaths and pedestrian crossings along the B1108, which cuts the town in half, can be dangerous for people walking to the shops or parents and children on the school run, Mr Eldridge said.
The town has no secondary school, but does have a primary school housed in a Victorian building which could do with “a bit of love”, its headteacher Vickie Newrick said.
The school’s “tiny hall” and “Victorian corridors” brought challenges, she said, but also pointed out that the school had been “very fortunate” to benefit last year from the installation of new-build modular classrooms at the back of the school.
The headteacher said more children brought by new housing in the town would be a positive.
“We would benefit from having a few more children. Some of our classes are quite small, some of them are quite big,” she said.
“We would love to have a consistent number all the way through the school.”
Mr Eldridge said he was “not sure” whether Hingham’s “excellent” GP surgery would be able to cope with the demand of another 100 homes.
Although the town has a private dentist, which Mr Eldridge said is “flourishing”, Hingham residents have to travel to one of the neighbouring towns for an NHS dentist.
Parking in Hingham is also a “real concern”, Mr Eldridge said.
“We don’t really have anywhere in town where it’s possible for people to park for any longer than a few minutes.”