‘I was very shocked’ - MP hits out at council over plans to fast-track 255 homes decision

George Freeman MP speaking at the official opening of The Blue Lion pub in North Pickenham. Picture:

George Freeman MP speaking at the official opening of The Blue Lion pub in North Pickenham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

A Norfolk MP has hit out at a district council for preparing to consider a planning application before the end of its public consultation.

Breckland Council's planning committee is due to run the rule over plans to build 255 homes in Dereham on Monday, June 24 - four days ahead of the deadline for opinions on the application.

However, the move has landed Capita - the council's outsourced planning department - in hot water with mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, who has said it is running the risk of losing the public's trust.

In a letter to Robert Walker, the council's executive director of place, seen by this newspaper, he said: "I have repeatedly emphasised how vitally important it is that public trust in the planning system is maintained.

"The views of the residents, locally elected councillors and the MP should carry particular weight on issues in their areas.

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"It is with this in mind that I was very shocked to hear this application is being heard at Monday's planning committee hearing - despite the fact that the public consultation does not in fact finish until four days later.

"Such a timeline will only serve to unnecessarily heighten distrust of the planning system and encourage a perception that local views are not given the consideration and respect they deserve."

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Mr Freeman added that he feared the approach could lead to people becoming less engaged with planning in future and grow reluctant to take part in other consultations.

He added: "Such disengagement is of particular concern to me because, as you well know, there is widespread upset about the level of development that has taken place, and is continuing to take place, in Dereham."

A Breckland spokesman said: "The site has been subject to a number of public consultations since it was first put forward for development in 2010 and the latest consultation focuses on specific elements of the revised proposals, such as the housing type proposed.

"That consultation is due to conclude on June 28 and so any decision made will be subject to no new significant matters being raised during consultation.

"If this does occur, the application may be brought back for reconsideration at a future planning meeting."

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