Calls for ban on development around town's beauty spot
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A drive to prevent development on the edge of Diss Mere is gathering momentum, with campaigners determined to safeguard their town's "best asset".
Calls have been growing for future building applications around the mere to be rejected by planners when they arise.
Anger has intensified in recent weeks as locals bear witness to the felling and cutting back of trees to make way for houses at a previously approved private development.
South Norfolk Council's (SNC) planning policy dictates that the mere its banks are an 'important local open space', meaning proposals must "retain the open character and appearance of the site".
While accepting that past decisions will not be overturned, those in opposition hope to see discernible changes in years to come.
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Ray Bryant, an architect who sits as chairman of the trustees at Diss Corn Hall, is among those leading the charge.
"What I would like to ensure is that we protect the character of the mere," he said.
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"There is this image of Diss that has been promoted in years gone by, with the scenic mere in the middle and the town wrapped around it. What we are finding is that South Norfolk Council's (SNC) planners don't share that vision.
"We can't do much about what has been passed, but we want to stop further applications from being approved.
"I am particularly worried about future development, but we don't seem to have any influence on the planning department."
Peter Hide is chairman of the Heritage Triangle Trust (HTT), set up after Diss was boosted by a £3m Heritage Lottery Fund project to improve the historic town centre.
In addition to refurbishing the Corn Hall, money was used to create a boardwalk and wildlife garden at the mere.
Mr Hyde, who lives in nearby Burston and runs Diss Ironworks, said recent building work had been to the detriment of the Heritage Triangle.
"This debate has been going on for a long time, and came to a head with the planning consent given to a development off St Nicholas Street," he added.
"There was a lot of public opposition and Diss Town Council and the HTT were not in favour either. But it seemed to us that it was bulldozed through.
"The mere and the surrounding area is the town's best asset and it is slowly being lost. What we want is for planners to say 'no more development', otherwise everyone who owns a property around the mere is going to want to build in their garden.
"You have only got to look now at the trees that have been felled, not to mention the overshadowing of the wildlife garden."
SNC's planning framework adds that development around Diss Mere is only permissible "where it respects the contribution the site makes to the form and character of the settlement".
Developers are also required to enable their sites to enable the "positive improvement" of ecology, biodiversity and green infrastructure.
Graham Minshull, who sits on SNC's planning committee, has history in opposing proposals for the mere-side alongside fellow Diss district councillor, Keith Kiddie.
But Mr Minshull said imposing a ban on any future schemes was simply not feasible.
"A couple of people contacted the council back in January demanding a moratorium," he added.
"We said that, under law, you just can't do that. The law says any application must come under consideration within 12 weeks.
"The mere is the town's greatest attraction so we have to look after a preserve it. So I 100pc understand what campaigners are trying to do, but we have to remain within the law.
"If we as a committee feel it is right to object something, then we will."
Mr Kiddie added: "People are obviously concerned because of what they are seeing but, from a local member's perspective, we are very mindful.
"If anything new comes up, we will certainly put it under scrutiny."
Explaining SNC's policy on schemes around Diss Mere, a spokesman said: "Any planning application that comes forward would have to go through the formal planning process and be assessed on its individual merits.
"It will also be subject to formal consultations with the town council, local residents and technical consultees."