An exciting vision which talked up the creation of a groundbreaking 160-acre country park is set to become a reality.

Dereham Town Council (DTC) has completed the purchase of a crucial 22 hectares of arable land - previously labelled "the last piece of the jigsaw".

Eastern Daily Press: Dereham Country Park will stretch from Neatherd Moor to Etling GreenDereham Country Park will stretch from Neatherd Moor to Etling Green (Image: Google Maps)

It will complete a project more than a decade in the making, bridging Neatherd Moor in the west with Etling Green in the east to form a vast area of open space accessible to the public.

DTC agreed to buy the land back in July, but had been waiting for the contract to be signed and sealed.

Town clerk Tony Needham said the council's action had likely prevented the fields from being lost to new housing.

He added: "A great many people love and value the area around the Neatherd.

Eastern Daily Press: Neatherd Moor in DerehamNeatherd Moor in Dereham (Image: Archant)

"I have no doubts that, if the town council had not purchased the land, this area would have been houses in the next 30 years.

"This purchase has forever secured a significant piece of land for Dereham. It will bring pleasure to people and benefit wildlife for generations to come."

The origins of the ambitious proposal were born in 2008, when DTC commissioned a green infrastructure study in the town.

One of the findings identified the benefits of creating linkages between Neatherd Moor and Etling Green - both of which are designated County Wildlife sites.

Over the ensuing years, parcels of land have gradually been acquired to bring them together and create a single country park.

As it stands, the newly-purchased plot is still being rented out and will be brought into public use in the autumn of this year.

Philip Morton, a town councillor and member of the Green Party, said: "This is brilliant news and I am looking forward to seeing the development of a whole new green link.

"The town council has bought lots of land as it has come up, and I think it is partly to compensate for the housing developments that have taken a little bit of the town's appeal away.

Eastern Daily Press: Dereham town councillor Philip MortonDereham town councillor Philip Morton (Image: Philip Morton)

"This is a way for us to ensure biodiversity, but also the land is for people to enjoy as well."

DTC has acknowledged that the country park does not address the town's shortfall in sports and play facilities, particularly to the south of Dereham.