Residents in Caston, near Watton, rally to protect their cherished village green

Residents in a Norfolk village are fighting to save their tiny communal green from development by their local authority.

Families in Caston, near Watton, are distraught by Breckland Council's plans to squeeze two new homes on the grassy patch in front of their homes in Coronation Terrace.

The 625 metres squared plot, off Attleborough Road, was created when the houses were built in 1953 and has been used as an informal village green for generations since then.

Under the watchful eye of neighbours, more than 20 children and teenagers regularly play on the precious space and community barbecues are also held there during the summer.

'It's going to have a devastating affect on the community,' said parish councillor David Blincow. 'There is nowhere else for children to play safely.'

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Another resident, Helen Maxwell said: 'It's a beautiful green area as you come into the village – it's going to look terrible. It's all right for the Conservatives to say they are empowering people, but when we say we don't want something the council has to listen.'

The plans, for a pair of two-bedroom semi-detached homes, has also come under criticism from district council officers.

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Breckland's historic buildings officer says the area 'should remain as a public open space,' while the tree and countryside officer concludes 'It is hard to conceive of a less a less appropriate space for development.'

The site was selected for development when the council embarked on the first phase of its Active Land Management process, which aims to find the most effective ways of disposing with the surplus council-owned sites scattered across Breckland.

As well as the loss of trees and a long-standing village amenity, Caston residents are objecting to the scheme for practical reasons - not least the size of the site.

'It's ridiculous,' said cllr Blincow. 'The houses are going to be little rabbit hutches.'

Residents already struggle to park in Coronation Terrace and fear the new houses – with only two new parking spaces – will exacerbate existing parking and access problems.

A busy BT telephone exchange on the green- referred to as an 'electrical substation' in the planning application - also adds pressure, with up to four vans visiting the site each day, campaigners say.

Attleborough Road is known as a speeding hot-spot in the village and resident Graham Penfold said creating another two driveways was 'an accident waiting to happen.'

'If you can get away with building houses on here then you can build on a central reservation – that's essentially what it is,' he said.

To add insult to injury, Breckland was in the process of giving the land – including another rectangular patch opposite – to Caston Parish Council until it was selected as part of the Active Land Management scheme last year.

The village had secured funding from Awards for All to cover the legal costs of the transfer – a condition of the gift- but the money had to be returned when the deal fell through in the latter stages.

Breckland has offered residents the second patch of grass – a tapered rectangle – but mother Denise Warren, a teaching assistant at the village school, said it was not safe for children to play on.

Mark Kiddle-Morris, executive member for assets and strategic development at Breckland, said; 'The council is tasked with gaining best possible use from public land at its disposal, both in terms of value and use. The council is seeking planning permission for a pair of semi-detached houses to be built on one parcel of land in Caston village but has offered the land adjacent to Coronation Terrace to the parish.

'In the event that planning consent cannot be secured the council will reconsider the decision to transfer the land to the parish.

'Considerations such as loss of open space, highways, proximity to other dwellings and any other considerations that are relevant in planning terms will be taken into account as part of the statutory planning permission process.'

Breckland is due to discuss the application at a meeting on October 3.

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