New site for eco-town emerges

Ed Foss A village on the edge of Norwich last night emerged as a potential front runner for a 4,000 home eco-town after being warmly welcomed by housing minister Caroline Flint.

Ed Foss

A village on the edge of Norwich last night emerged as a potential front runner for a 4,000 home eco-town after being warmly welcomed by housing minister Caroline Flint.

The group of council leaders behind the zero carbon eco-town formally made their case to the government yesterday and were immediately told by the minister their plan had “a lot of potential”.

The Rackheath proposal now looks poised to beat an alternative plan at the former RAF Coltishall airbase which has caused widespread controversy across Norfolk since it was suggested. The Coltishall plan received a further blow on Wednesday when a plan to build a prison on part of the base was given the go ahead.

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Although Rackheath has been mentioned previously as a potential option, yesterday saw a range of details put on the table for the first time as the leaders of Broadland, South Norfolk, Norwich and Norfolk councils all lent their support.

Up to 4,000 houses would be built, the development would have few land ownership hurdles to jump through because 95pc of the undeveloped area is in single ownership and ironically, in line with RAF Coltishall, most of the land was formerly an airfield.

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People in Rackheath yesterday said they were shocked at the scale of possible development and although they had been expecting new houses to come, it was only in far smaller numbers.

Barratt Homes, the developer behind the plan, go as far to say that “if allocated for development, the deliverability of the site is not in doubt”.

The Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP), the group of Norfolk councils promoting the eco-town plan, has urged the government to drop Coltishall and take on in its place their plan, which they say is far more sustainable. They also pledged local people would be fully consulted.

Responding to the GNDP approach, Ms Flint said: “I very much welcome this positive proposal from these local authorities, which demonstrates how they are stepping up to meet the housing challenge in their area.

“We think this proposal has a lot of potential and it will now be rigorously assessed alongside the other bids to ensure only those with the highest standards make it through to the final short list.

“This clearly shows how the government wants to work closely with local authorities and is being receptive to the views of local people on this important issue.”

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew said Rackheath was a much better option than Coltishall for meeting the government's eco-town objectives.

“It is better prepared to shoulder new infrastructure and the local landowners are ready for development. Most importantly, the plans are already going through a comprehensive, rigorous and democratic planning process, so local people will be fully involved along the way.”

Broadland District Council leader Simon Woodbridge said: “The north east sector is an area which has been identified as an area for planned and managed growth and Rackheath is a part of this.

“We would want any houses planned to be as carbon neutral as possible for environmental reasons and also to keep fuel bills affordable for the generations of families we hope will live in them.

“The most important next step now is to talk to local residents about how they would like to see their community grow and develop. We are looking forward and planning for the long term needs of our communities. Managed growth needs to be sustainable and well thought through with jobs and infrastructure to support any growth.”

And addressing the importance of the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) alongside the Rackheath plan, South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said: “If the government wants to see an eco-town, and Rackheath is considered suitable, then it must fund the infrastructure to provide it, and that includes the NDR.

“That's the deal Norfolk people would expect us to agree and which they would support. They should not be short-changed on this.”

And Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox said: “Rackheath is a realistic alternative to the Coltishall eco-town, but will only be made possible if government support is forthcoming.

“They've made a good start by short listing GNDP for Community Infrastructure Funding, but this tacit approval will need to turn into a firm commitment if we are to make this development opportunity a success.”

A letter from GNDP to Ms Flint details a number of features about Rackheath which the parntnership say are key to proving the site's viability.

the site is being promoted for development by a consortia of landowners, which provides certainty that the plans will be delivered the site is included in all three options that are being considered for comprehensive development within the strategic planning framework for the area in accordance with strategic planning objectives, the site lends itself to being serviced by improved public transport corridors

the site is in close proximity to an operational railway line, with station access

the site is in close proximity to existing and planned areas for employment growth

the site is well located for access to the retail and cultural offer of Norwich

the general location has already been subject to public consultation through the issues and options stage of the joint core strategy process

The Greater Norwich Development Partnership is a partnership between Broadland District Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk District Council, Norfolk County Council and the Broads Authority. It was formed to help manage growth in the three districts.

Reaction in Rackheath yesterday was mainly confusion and surprise.

Although people were expecting their community to grow, the sheer number of potential houses does not appear to have filtered through until the EDP approached individuals who live in and around the village, which currently numbers around 800 homes.

Paula Lowe, who runs Rackheath Stores, said: “Everyone knew there was going to be building at some point, but we all thought it would be more along the lines of a few hundred houses.

“We have only relatively recently had 400 houses built here and people expected any new development to be of a similar size.”

Mrs Lowe said they had asked for more information about the proposal to be outlined to them at their next parish council meeting, which is on September 15.

Verna Gage, who has lived in the village for around 30 years, said she had not heard about the 4,000 home plan or heard anyone alluding to it.

“We knew if the Northern Distributor Road was built we would probably be in for substantial development.

“But as a community of 800, I think we would cease to exist if 4,000 houses came.

“The number comes as an enormous surprise to me and I don't think I will be the only one.”

On the other hand, close to the RAF Coltishall site, the reaction was welcoming but extremely cautious of the Rackheath news.

Paul Thomas, spokesman for the Coltishall Eco Town Action Group (CETAG) said: “It sounds encouraging that this will mean there will not be a 10,000 home eco-town here, but are we 100pc sure of that yet? I certainly don't think so.

“If Rackheath goes ahead, does that definitely rule out Coltishall?

“This whole issue moves direction so outrageously easily, we will continue to fight until we know for sure what is happening.”

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