Agenda item

Thetford Growth Point Status (Agenda Item 6)

Presentation by Nick Vass Bowen and Natalie Beal the Thetford Growth Point Team.


A presentation was given by the Environmental Planning Manager and the Senior Planning Policy Officer (Growth Point) to update members on the progress of the Thetford Growth Point project.


The presentation explained the background to the Thetford Growth Point Status (what it is, what it means), the relationship with the Regional Spatial Strategy, headline figures, an overview of the work under way and the links to the Local Development Framework.


A copy of the presentation slides is appended to these minutes for members’ information.


With regard to the links to the Local Development Framework (LDF), it was explained that development of the Thetford Area Action Plan would incorporate detailed policies, including the allocation of land specific to Thetford, work on which was scheduled to start in early 2008.  It was emphasised that there would be three opportunities for widespread public consultation and input into this document.


It was also explained that the Regional Spatial Strategy was a planning document covering the whole of the East of England region produced by the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA).  It was a broad strategy which identified where development should take place and identified a number of areas where growth would take place.  Thetford had been identified for 6000 homes growth.  It was stressed that this was not a Breckland document but was something to which the Council’s LDF needed to conform. 


The Chairman also pointed out that once the Council had submitted its final LDF to the Government, its approval and/or amendment would be made by the Government’s Inspector and neither the Council nor the public would be able to make further alterations after that point. 


Concern was raised that the Thetford Growth Framework and Green Infrastructure Study were stated as being evidence based documents.


The Environmental Planning Manager replied that both Studies had been commissioned from an independent specialist company and that their report contained their professional judgements.  However, it would be for the Council to consider and decide how to deal with their findings through the Thetford Area Action Plan.  It would be up to the Council to determine whether or not it agreed with the Consultants’ conclusions and then to make its own decisions on the way forward. 


It was also pointed out that the document was still in its draft stage only at present.  A member added that even as a draft document, there was concern that it should not have included certain names.  The point was acknowledged and it was stated that there were potentially some changes to be made to the draft report.


In answer to a question about the delivery of the 6000 houses proposed to be built between 2001 and 2021, it was explained that 900 had so far been built.


A further question related to the issue of ‘regeneration’ in relation to the town centre and, bearing in mind that the existing study was based on the town as it existed, there was concern about the position in regard to the latest growth projections.


In reply, it was stated that a considerable amount of the original study was still relevant but the Growth Point funding included a sum to look at the town centre and its investment potential and therefore there was work to do to refresh the original study.


Again, it was stressed that the published document was a draft only and would be subject to comprehensive consultation before it was finalised.


A member asked about the timing of the various studies in the programme, bearing in mind that the Green Infrastructure Study was scheduled for completion by October but the Water Cycle Study was not due to commence until the end of September.  The Water Cycle Study would have a significant impact on the hard and soft infrastructure proposals and he asked how it would be ensured that all aspects were incorporated into the various studies.


It was acknowledged that the timetable was not ideal and arose due to the late decision of the Environment Agency to require the Water Cycle Study.  However, the respective consultants of the two studies were aware of the situation and would take account of each other’s report.  If it proved necessary, there would be scope in the programme to carry out additional work on this.


Concern was also raised about the issue of flood risk.  The view was expressed that the draft published report did not adequately address the potential flood risk.  Problems were already being experienced in the town from existing developments but the source was occurring downstream of the River Thet and there appeared to be no ownership of the issue by the relevant agencies.  The proposed scale of further development in Thetford would exacerbate the problems and this needed to be taken into account.


In response, it was explained that this question was picked up in the existing study from the regional perspective and would provide further information.  The Growth Point Project Group had direct input to the consultants and therefore was able to raise with them these considerations.  Importantly, the Environment Agency was represented on the Project Group.


In relation to this issue, another member referred to the fact that the Norfolk Rivers Board was already concerned about the growing problem of removal of spate water (e.g. from heavy thunderstorms) and asked whether the LDF would be open for consultation for a long enough time to take account of the considerations of the Thetford Area Action Plan and regeneration issues.


It was explained that the LDF comprised a number of documents, of which the Thetford Area Action Plan was one.  Work on the Area Action Plan had not yet started and would follow on from the Core Strategy document, so it was still ‘live’.


In regard to the fact that the number of houses to be built was a Government decision, a member asked who decided where these houses would be developed and whether there would be a new estate.


It was replied that, in terms of decisions on development proposals, Breckland was the Planning Authority which would produce the final LDF document.  However, there were many options on how this growth could be accommodated and these were still to be considered.


A member highlighted the fact that there had been an original reference to the upgrading of existing housing as part of the regeneration of the town and he asked whether there was now a shift away from that intention.


The Environmental Planning Manager responded that this question was unclear at present and was still to be considered.  It had to be borne in mind that this was a 20-year strategy and therefore it would be necessary to look at the existing housing and not solely any new housing.  No policy decisions had yet been taken.  The report would provide potential ideas for the Council to consider in consultation with the community on how to go forward.


The draft report was very much a discussion document at this stage.  The project also involved looking at the needs for employment and looking at Thetford in the wider picture.  It was the opportunity to ensure that the plan for the town was right for the future.


The production of a Green Infrastructure Study was welcomed by a member, who said he would like to see this incorporate the issue of ‘green bridges’ to ensure there was an interconnection between all the open spaces etc.


It was confirmed that the study was looking at the existing links between the town and the forest.


So far as the draft published report was concerned, it was reiterated that this was a commissioned study to facilitate the Council’s considerations and did not provide solutions or decisions.  The study was necessary to ensure there was a comprehensive evidence base to support the eventual submission of the LDF by the Council to the Government Inspector, who would be looking for such evidence, and was necessary to avoid the final LDF not being accepted for lack of supporting evidence.


Returning to the point made about ‘green bridges’, a member commented that this was an issue nationally where this country was lagging behind other parts of Europe.  She hoped the question of waste disposal would be looked at very carefully and also asked how public consultation would be carried out.


It was explained that there would be a public consultation on the final infrastructure study this year and the work on the Thetford Action Plan would commence in January 2008, the programme for which included public consultation periods.


Attention was drawn by a member to policy TH1 in the Regional Spatial Strategy, which included the need for development to be sensitive to the historic setting.  He felt that this was not always taken into account by Planning Inspectors in deciding planning appeals and that this was something that needed to be given more weight in any planning policies.


The Environmental Planning Manager advised that the question of historic sensitivity to development was recognised at the regional level and therefore the cultural and heritage aspects of policies were being considered, particularly in regard to the town centre.


A member added that there were a number of town centre properties which, while in the conservation area, were not listed buildings but formed the character of the area and asked how these could be protected.


It was stated that the Historic Buildings Officer had highlighted a requirement for a specific piece of work to look at those important buildings which contributed to the character of the area.


It was also noted that while the Council could make reference to policy TH1, it could not be relied on as it was not specific, although the Council could rely on certain Planning Policy Statements.  A key factor was for appropriate design solutions to be required.  However, so far as changes to existing non-listed buildings were concerned, the planning process offered no assistance in this regard.


Members were encouraged to submit any specific concerns in writing to the Growth Point Team.


The Executive Member advised that the whole planning policy process was being reviewed and that all views would be considered.


The item concluded with the Chairman thanking the officers for their very helpful presentation on this project.


Supporting documents: