House building saga needs a quick resolution

View looking down a row of Victorian terraced houses at dusk in Norwich city centre

The pandemic has already delayed many first time buyers' hopes of buying a property. - Credit: Getty Images

What a complete and utter bugger's muddle!

I'm talking about the current saga over the immediate future of development, not just in Norfolk, but the country as a whole.

In case you missed it (and surprisingly it seems many of the national newspapers have) the planning system has been thrown into chaos after it emerged that government advisor Natural England had told councils they must not grant planning permission for any schemes involving 'overnight accommodation', until it could be proved they would not lead to more nutrients flowing into waterways.

Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said councils needed to make assessments against which developers can prove their schemes are 'nutrient neutral', by providing mitigation if necessary.

Hickling Broad will be the central focus of works by the Broads Authority to improve accessibility t

Hickling Broad . Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

The announcement, which from what we saw was a complete surprise to all local councils, effectively blocks schemes for new houses, student homes, care homes and campsites until measures are put in place to prevent pollution.

It impacts large swathes of Norfolk, along both the River Wensum and on the Broads.

Of course it is absolutely right that new homes should not be built if they are going to potentially contaminate the water supply. The principle isn't wrong here - more the way it has been carried out and communicated.

And there will be many who don't want more houses built in the community that will rejoice at the twist. However, it seems completely and utterly baffling that this has apparently never been flagged up before as an option and was completely out of the blue for those affected.

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Meanwhile, this week we saw a further twist when it was claimed there was a chance those areas not covered by the order, will be the ones to have to cope with an even bigger influx of homes.

It is feared that, because councils have their own housing targets to meet, previously declined applications will resurface and suddenly be attractive again.

Just so local councils can meet their targets.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, whom regular readers will know isn't usually the first to pick up the newspaper to this paper, got it spot on when he described the situation as 'something approaching chaos'.

Now we are in a situation where numerous organisations are scrabbling for information to try and find out exactly what they need to do for the order to be lifted. The information provided by Natural England doesn't appear to cut the mustard.

Some councils have even been looking at potential legal advice, which no doubt if taken would be at a cost to the tax payer.

On the face of it, a bit of a hiatus in house building is not such a bad thing. Norfolk has high new housing targets and has done its fair share in recent years. Maybe it will even give developers the chance to provide all of the community schemes they pledge, but so often fail to deliver until made to do so.

However, I'm concerned about what it will mean for those many thousands of people who are struggling to get their foot on the housing ladder? Their wait could get even longer from this point. And that comes on the back of covid delays.

This story has been doing the rounds in our paper for several weeks now and still there appear to be so many unanswered questions.

It needs to be resolved - and soon - because the last thing Norfolk needs is to be blighted with the growth of hundreds of new homes in areas that are not suitable for them.