Wymondham residents fear ‘the town is losing its complete heart’ with over 2500 homes in the pipeline
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2006
Wymondham is at the top of the list of Norfolk places exposed to over-development. With hundreds more homes on the way, reporter STUART ANDERSON takes a look at the historic market town's future, and the hopes, fears and thoughts of its residents.
In an act of famous defiance, yeoman farmer Robert Kett once led thousands of peasants a march across miles of open countryside from Wymondham to Norwich.
It was 1549 and the issue was land – and who had a right to use it.
Anyone following Kett's footsteps today will encounter a much-changed landscape – empty fields once sprinkled with farmers' huts and the occasional coaching inn are now covered in new estates and access roads.
But land use is an issue which gets Wymondham residents fired up as much as ever.
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The town's location next to the A11 means an open door to Norwich, Cambridge and beyond, with the jobs, shops, universities and hospitals they offer.
But is this 'sweet spot' also Wymondham's curse, meaning the town will inevitably wind up as an outer suburb of the Fine City?
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When we asked members on the Facebook group Wymondham Ways to share their thoughts, they responded with a flood of concerns about loss of identity, overbuilding, and a failure of heath, education and other services to keep pace with growth.
Resident Kate Buckoke summed up the concerns of many, saying: 'It's such really starting to worry me how much Wymondham has changed. 'Housing is ridiculous. Schools are at busting point. Doctors and dentists have just got beyond a joke.
'The town is losing its complete heart. All these new estates popping up are making us get closer to Hethersett.
'It's literally changing every single year.'
Another resident, Alicia Bell, added: 'Wymondham was once a lovely quaint historic town with old shops, and shops that we needed. Now it's nearly touching Hethersett. Build onto the cities, and leave the historic towns and villages alone.'
A major project bound to eat into the gap between the settlements is a 390-home estate on Wymondham Rugby Club property and adjoining land.
The council had opposed the £5.5m scheme, but Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities and local government, stepped in to give it the green light in September.
South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller said: 'Sadly we lost the appeal, but the strategic gap is still there and will continue to be defended.
Mr Fuller said retaining Wymondham's heart and soul was a top priority.
Mr Fuller said development close to the town's centre was preferred over building up the outskirts, which had a 'hollowing out' effect.
He said: 'Wymondham is really in the sweet spot. It's got a fantastic array of shops and good schools. New development should really be as close to the town centre as possible and new homes should ideally be within walking distance of the station.'
'People will accept new homes, provided that facilities are built alongside.'
Mr Fuller said the newly-refurbished Wymondham Leisure Centre, 'the thick end of a £4m investment delivered upfront', was an example of how development was helping to fund infrastructure improvements.
Other major projects planned include 1,230 homes in Wymondham's south on land to the east of Silfield Road, 250 homes on land opposite Waitrose and a further 250 on land around Gonville Hall, off Suton Lane.
Joe Mooney, town mayor, said: These are exciting times for Wymondham and by investing £4m in the leisure centre the council has ensured that the facility is ready for the growth that we know is coming.
'This is planned growth and by investing in our services the council is ensuring that they are ready for the future demand of residents.'
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All about Wymondham
Population: 14,405 (in 2011 census)
Town sign: Shows Robert Kett rallying peasants at Kett's Oak, between Wymondham and Hethersett. The sign also depicts a man working with timber, as the town was once a hub of the woodturning industry.
Also famous for: Kett's Rebellion, the Mid-Norfolk Railway, the 15th century Green Dragon pub, the Great Fire of 1615, the Market Cross, a heritage of woodturning and handloom weaving, the Norfolk Constabulary headquarters and Wymondham Abbey, which is easily one of Norfolk's most beautiful churches
Famous former residents: Poet George Szirtes, Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy, Justin and Dan Hawkins from The Darkness, author Bill Bryson and darts legend James Hubbard.
This August saw scores of Wymondham residents band together and stage a sit-in at the King's Head Meadow play area to prevent the council-sanctioned removal of pieces of play equipment after noise complaints from neighbours.
Some said the protest showed the defiant spirit embodied in Kett's Rebellion was still alive and well in the town.
But the extraordinary action also highlighted the high value residents put on infrastructure of all kinds.
Other top concerns include flood risks, access to the A11, a planned extension of a cycle path from Norwich and lack of access to the railway station's second platform.
Mr Fuller said the access under the Silfield Road railway bridge would be widened as part of the development of south Wymondham – an example of how developers were obliged to improve the towns in which they work.
He said: 'Growth is part of the national situation. We can't turn our backs on that. We just have to grind out the best possible deal for Wymondham, and we're focused on that.'
Mr Fuller said the capacity of Wymondham High Academy acted as a handbrake on further development. The school has around 1,650 pupils aged 11 to 18, but has limited room for expansion.
Mr Fuller: 'It's already the largest high school in Norfolk and with additional growth it's going to be absolutely the largest.
'And it's landlocked, so that puts an overall size on how much bigger Wymondham can get at the moment, because if you build homes, children need places to go to school.'
On the social media discussion, resident Rachel Ward said: 'The issue with schools is one of deliberate government policy. Local councils aren't allowed to open new schools – only free schools and academies. It's ridiculous and causing problems everywhere, not just in Wymondham.'
A new primary school is planned as part of a development in south Wymondham. Mr Fuller said four primary schools were generally needed to justify the building of a new secondary school.
Lack of access to GPs was a major concern among many, and the issue is tightly linked with the town's population growth.
Long-term resident Dianne Hopkins recalled that in earlier times: 'Our GP could be seen the same day or the next when we rang for an appointment – now it's up to a month to see him, even though there is a further surgery in Wymondham now.'
Sarah Burnham said: 'We have too many new estates for starters but we do not have the services (doctors, dentists, etc) to cover the needs – my dentist is in Loddon.'
Mr Fuller said there was only so much the council could do to make sure health services kept up with demand.
He said: 'We have to bang the drum with Health England and NHS England.
'We've been doing a leading role in getting health England to be talking to councils more generally.
'Surgeries are private businesses in a way and they need to be encouraged. Our job is to ensure that there's sufficient land available for when the health service says they'll build one.'
Doctors' surgeries across the county are facing a recruitment crisis, as fewer qualified doctors are coming in to replace those due to retire.
Wymondham Medical Centre practice manager Kevin Baker told this newspaper: 'We are a big practice serving 18,000 patients in Wymondham.
'The big question is how do we go forward with a health service that doesn't have the number of GPs that we have traditionally had?'
'We still love this town'
Not everyone who took part in the online discussion was critical of the way Wymondham was going.
Suzanne Nuri, a relative newcomer to the town, said: 'Infrastructure has to be considered but we're rather at the mercy of central government for that.
'I think we have a vibrant community spirit and that is priceless. We also have a variety of local shops and services which should be used, otherwise we will lose them. Popping into Norwich is fine but you should add your transport costs to your shopping. We also live in a beautiful historic town, with an abbey, heritage railway, vibrant music festival and literary festival. There are still lovely walks, country lanes for cycling and kind hearted folk aplenty. I may not have lived here long but I love Wymondham.'
Another resident, Alastair Aitchison, said: 'Having moved to the town relatively recently, my personal opinion is that a lot of the residents here don't know how lucky they are.
'The schools are fantastic, there are well-supported local shops, pubs, and charities, hardly any issues of crime, anti-social behaviour etc.'