Tensions running high at appeal for controversial Watton development

Residents in Watton are concerned for the future of Wayland Wood. Picture: Ian Burt

Residents in Watton are concerned for the future of Wayland Wood. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The babes of Wayland Wood may yet have their home put at risk after an appeal to build 180 homes on their doorstep opened rifts between developers and residents.

The fate of the previously refused plan from Gladman Developments was debated during a six-hour hearing in Watton yesterday.

More than 50 residents packed into Queens Hall along with representatives from Breckland and Norfolk County Councils, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Gladman Developments, acting as planning consultants for the application.

The crowd applauded as statements were read from the town's MP George Freeman, Watton Medical Practice manager Mary Osborne and campaign group What Watton Wants against the approval of the development off Thetford Road.

In his statement, Mr Freeman said the development was likely to have 'a severe impact on local services'.

Speaking for What Watton Wants, its chairman Paul Adcock said: 'We are the voice of a beleaguered community facing an onslaught from what could be considered excessive development.'

Planning inspector John Gray quoted guidance from the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), saying Breckland's lack of a five year housing supply was a 'strong material consideration in favour of the proposal'.

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Discussions started with the impact on Wayland Wood, from increased dog walking and littering to the wood's insufficient stewardship to sustain greater visitor numbers.

According to the NPPF, if a development is likely to have an impact on an SSSI it should not normally be granted.

Aidan Dobison Booth, principal planning officer, said the development would 'bring the built area closer to the woodland', affecting the area's character.

Crowd participation stepped up a gear when the discussion turned to infrastructure.

Keith Gilbert, town and district councillor for Watton, said the appeal was 'environmentally disastrous' and argued the town was not able to cope with the cumulative effect of planned developments.

Mr Dobison Booth said: 'There are local facilities for day to day need, but these have limited capacity for expansion.'

John MacKenzie, Gladman Developments planning manager, said Anglia Water believed the sewerage systems could cope with the increase, while the highways authority had confirmed the current road network could accommodate the increased traffic flow.

The crowd were riled over the issue of traffic congestion, scoffing at the suggestion the roads could cope with the increase.

A decision is expected on the appeal in six to eight weeks.

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