Six years on, Thetford's 5,000 home revamp is growing apace
- Credit: Emily Thomson
Around 2015 the future of Thetford was determined as plans to build a huge 5,000 home development was approved.
Six years later, the first phase of this 30-year plan, which is set to drastically change the town, is well under way.
The Kingsfleet development - managed by Pigeon Investment Management Ltd - is on land belonging to The Crown Estate and Kilverstone Estate, north of Thetford, with homes being built up to the A11 bypass.
With the town’s population set to increase, the site – also referred to as Thetford Sustainable Urban Extension (Thetford SUE) - will see the build of three primary schools, open space, significant employment areas, community and health care facilities.
In 2018, Hopkins Homes kicked off phase one (sub-phase 1A) after it was granted permission to build 343 properties.
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Between February and August 2019, work also took place for the build of a new junction and associated road widening, with only inbound traffic permitted on the A1075 during that time.
Toward the end of 2020, planning permission was then granted to housing company Kier Living (now Tilia Homes) for up to 130 dwellings, on the land that sits alongside the A11 on Norwich Road in Croxton.
James Buxton, executive chairman of Pigeon Investment Management, revealed that a third parcel of land has now been sold to the housing developer Taylor Wimpey.
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This third developer will also come under phase one of the build, which will see a further 225 homes, next to the Tilia Homes site.
Mr Buxton said Tilia Homes – who bought a second plot of land last year - are set to start their build “very soon”. Followed by Taylor Wimpey in roughly nine to 12 months time.
He added: “We are pleased with what Hopkins Homes have done. Their homes have been selling very well and I think they are pleased with the way the development has gone so far.
“We have also agreed detailed layout plans and designs with both Tilia Homes and Taylor Wimpey.
“What we have seen looks as though it will continue to maintain the high standard which Hopkins have established there. We are very optimistic about the way the development will proceed over the next few years.”
All three developers, including Hopkins Homes, Tilia Homes and Taylor Wimpey, will come under phase one, along with two more sales of land - with the aim of completion between 2028 and 2029.
This will be followed by phase two, which will include the build of around 1,100 homes and phase three for just over 700 homes.
Then, finally, phase four and five.
From grand five-bedrooms homes to stylish flats and affordable housing, Kingsfleet boasts a range of properties for growing families, single professionals, first-time buyers or renters.
Hopkins Homes have already built the first of 343 properties, which will include one and two-bedroom apartments and one-to-five-bedroom houses across a variety of styles and designs - as well as 51 affordable homes.
Norfolk County Councillor for Thetford West, Terry Jermy, said: “What has been great is that I have noticed an awful lot of younger people from Thetford have moved there - they have been able to get on the property ladder.
“I can name several people who have moved there and bought their first homes.
“I like the Hopkins Homes design. They are lovely houses and it's nice to think people from Thetford can progress into the development."
Tilia Homes' contribution will also include 20 affordable units.
In a previous meeting with the Greater Thetford Partnership and the housing company, Mr Jermy said they suggested using flint in their housing design, linking with Thetford’s heritage and praised the housebuilder for its "innovative" ideas.
David Thomas, regional sales and marketing director for Tilia Homes Eastern, said work will start at their "Sovereign Gate" development in early August.
He added: “The Kingsfleet development has been designed in keeping with the existing architecture in Thetford, with various character areas responding to different design aspects of the town.
"We undertook an in-depth character study of the existing homes in Thetford, carefully selecting materials which closely matched the properties within the vicinity of our development to ensure a cohesive character.
"The building pallet reflects a range of materials including buff brick, Fenland pantile rooftiles, render and black boarding. The majority of the properties will be two and two-and-a-half storey semi-detached detached homes, with a few small terraces and maisonettes.
“As a responsible housebuilder, we are also committed to delivering a number of sustainable elements at Sovereign Gate.
"These include energy-efficient building fabric and insulation to all common heat loss areas including floors, walls and roofs, high efficiency double glazed windows, as well as installing high efficiency heating systems and low energy lighting throughout the homes and for the street lighting.”
On Friday July 23, housing company Taylor Wimpey completed the sale for a third plot of 225 homes.
Amenities and infrastructure
As part of the original planning permission for the 5,000-home development, the land owner is expected to provide or fund local amenities to meet demand as the population grows.
This includes affordable housing, public open space, education, bus services, cycling and walking provision, travel plans and highway improvement works.
On the Kingsfleet website, as part of its masterplan, it writes: “The Kingsfleet community will offer a perfect environment for both living and working.
“The 30-year project will see the delivery of superior services for families with designated work zones. Schools, a nursery, a health centre, shops, public spaces including parkland and allotments will all be integral to the development.”
In a previous interview with this paper, Will van Cutsem, investment director at Pigeon, said in order for the development to progress, the build of a new primary electricity producing substation was urgently needed - with power in the town already “maxed out”.
The substation, which has been granted planning permission, will form part of the much-needed infrastructure to support the new homes.
Mr Buxton, executive chairman at Pigeon, said: "There are two things happening at the moment. The first is that Anglian Water is laying a new water main which will provide enough water for the development – on land to the East of Norwich Road.
"Secondly, we are in the final stages of agreeing a price and specification for a new primary substation and a new power supply. The power supply at the moment is very close to capacity.
"We are looking at about 18 months from the time the contract is awarded."
The Kingsfleet development also falls within Croxton Parish Council and chairman Doug Stephen said there are concerns about medical facilities (including doctors and dentists) and affordable housing – as Thetford and its surrounding areas already struggle to meet demand.
He said: “While the current development is in the parish of Croxton, in 2023 the parish boundaries are moving. After that date, the development will lie within Thetford and Brettenham and Kilverstone.
“The main concern, probably, is the impact that the development will ultimately have on the provision of education and medical facilities.
"But these are long-term concerns. So far, the development has had limited impact on facilities and infrastructure.
“I think it will be a few years yet before the full impact will begin to be felt. But hopefully plans are in place to address that when additional residents appear.”
The build of one or more new schools will also be vital for families as more people move to the development, but in a previous interview Pigeon said there is not yet the demand for places.
A spokesman added: "The landowner is obliged to make a financial contribution to Breckland Council for provision or improvement of Primary Care facilities. The contribution must be made before 80pc of the dwellings within Phase 2 have been completed.
"The landowner is obliged to transfer the site for the primary school to Norfolk County Council before 10pc of the dwellings within Phase one have been completed. We understand that the County Council intends to serve notice in October for the transfer."
Thetford is known for its rural location, surrounded by greenery, rich wildlife and a beautiful forest.
On the Kingsfleet’s website, it states that green open spaces will flourish on the development with habitats for local wildlife.
Adding that there will be 40 acres of public open space and 12 acres of land reserved as allotments for Kingsfleet residents.
It also states: “Cycling and walking opportunities are fundamental to the development.
“For a healthier and greener lifestyle, Kingsfleet will have a dedicated network of cycle routes.”
The huge 5,000 home development will be delivered in phases and will span over 30 years.
But as well as concerns about infrastructure to support the town’s growth, many also hope Thetford’s natural environment is protected as much as it can during the build.
Residents were recently shocked to discover the felling of trees on the Kilverstone Estate, next to the development - but the estate said it was not related to the build.
Mr Jermy said: “It’s worth mentioning the controversy around the felling of the trees which happened near Joe Blunt’s Lane - that was a big concern.
“I hope the Kilverstone Estate and others have learnt from that and will got through the next phases in a more sympathetic way for the environment.
“A lot of people are passionate about the environment in Thetford and we want to start as we mean to go on.”
The home owners
Families have already started to make Kingsfleet their home.
Hopkins Homes handed over the first pair of keys in January 2020 and has since seen “good demand” for houses on the development.
It is believed around 60 to 70 families have officially moved in.
Rachel Pittman, a mother-of-two, moved into her new home last year.
She said: “It has been good and it’s nice and quiet. I think we are in a good location and we love the green space out the front. I’m really happy with the estate.
“There is also a park being built. They have put the fencing up so hopefully that will come along soon. I have two kids and they love playing out.
“It has been lovely, it’s our dream house. Apart from a few little things that need tweaking, it’s absolutely brilliant.
“It does seem quite busy now lockdown has eased. Whatever houses are being built they are filling up pretty quickly.”
Living in one of the newly built terrace houses, 81-year-old Robert Burford said he is “impressed” with his new home.
“I moved on June 5 last year and I am very happy with it,” he said.
“I never thought I would have a terrace house but it’s great. We have only had minor issues, we can’t complain.
“We looked at quite a few developments, some in Watton and Swaffham, and this one was nice and open. It’s great.”
Clare Ashford is another resident who has moved onto the estate with her family. Ms Ashford said they love their new rented home - but they would like to see more street lights installed.
“I am in a three bedroom and it’s lovely,” said the 44-year-old. “It’s nice and quiet and the rooms are massive. I love it.
“We need street lights though; it’s pitch black at night. But it’s a nice area. People are moving in as quick as they are building them.
“The only other thing that concerns me is that it is one way in and out at the minute. I would like to see a footpath to the school, to cut through to Joe Blunt’s Lane rather than walking along the main road. I reckon it will all be alright when it’s all done.”
Rebecca Downham and her husband Greg Downham were on the hunt for a bigger home and moved onto the estate in February this year.
Mrs Downham, a 30-year-old mother-of-one, said: “We love it here. It is brilliant, we have had next to no problems.
“You can hear horror stories of new builds but Hopkins Homes have been really good. I think they are doing a good job.
“Obviously, it’s slow progress and it will take some years but I’m not bothered about the building work; I have lived on new developments before.
“It’s interesting watching them go up.”
Alan Leggett has been a postman in Thetford for the last 18 years and has been spending more time on the estate as more families move in.
He said: “It looks nice and it’s a lovely estate. I roughly deliver to about 50 houses.
“It is slow, but more people are moving in. More sold signs are going up.
“It’s just whether the town can cope, with schools and doctors. If the infrastructure doesn’t come it could cause issues. But it’s very early on.”
Tina and Mike Matthews and their two children were the tenth people to move into their “forever home” just before the first lockdown in 2020.
Mrs Matthews, 35, said: “It feels like a million years ago with everything that has happened but we were so lucky to move in when we did with lockdown.
“Hopkins are really great and the build quality is really good. We are really chuffed.
“We knew we were only the tenth people to move onto the estate and for such a long time we were the only house down here, all by ourselves.
“But since then, more people have moved in, we know the names of all of our neighbours. It’s lovely. It’s nice to have that community already.
“We were really surprised that we could afford to move into a new build and it busts a lot of the myths you hear about them.
“We are really happy with our garden size, storage is good, they are well-built housed, they have a lot of character and not all of the houses look the same.”
Mrs Matthews said they are also looking forward to the build of a new footpath through to Joe Blunt’s Lane, so families and children who attend Thetford Academy can “nip through” rather than using the main road.
Kimberly and Martyn Brockett and their three children moved into a Hopkins Homes four-bedroom semi-detached in August 2020.
Mrs Brockett, 31, said they love their new home and the estate.
“I love living here,” she added. “Everyone is really friendly and I am really pleased with the house.
“I have lived in Thetford all of my life, and we just wanted somewhere a little bit bigger and loved the idea of living in a new build – so we wouldn't have to do any work to it.
“We are really pleased, it’s just lovely inside. We were waiting for news homes in Thetford for so long, I was really pleased it was Hopkins.
“We are waiting for the play area to be built and the footpath, cut through to Joe Blunt’s Lane. When I walk my children to school at the minute, I have to take them onto the main road and I have three little ones, so I would prefer to cut through.”