Agenda item

Garden Town Proposal - Proposed Response (Agenda item 4)

Report of Councillor William Nunn, Leader of the Council.

Minutes:

The Chairman introduced Jennie Borgnis, the Chair of North Elmham Parish Council, who was in attendance to speak on behalf of the five parishes adjacent to the proposed site and for ‘CANT’, ‘Campaign Against the New Town,’ an organisation that had been set up by these parishes. She was also voicing the concerns of over 2000 people who had signed a petition against the proposal.

 

The Chair of North Elmham Parish Council made the following statement:

 

“The Government’s prospectus stated that new garden community applications must have local authority support.  Lanpro had known this for more than two years, yet – in direct conflict with Government aims, had blatantly failed to engage with parish councils or residents. When finally alerted to this proposal in just June of this year, Breckland Council emphasised to Lanpro the need for such engagement.

 

Despite publicly stating that the proposal was about community, Lanpro had not contacted one local community or parish council. Instead it had been found that Lanpro wished to bypass everyone at a local level and directly lobby the Government. Furthermore, the Forestry Commission, whose land on the East bank of the River Wensum would be completely contained by this development, had not been approached.

 

Breckland Council had spent years painstakingly devising its local plan to 2036 in full consultation with all parties. The Local Plan did not require or include a new town of 10,000 dwellings.

 

The Parish Councils were aware of two facts: that in June 2017 two landowners signed conditional sale contracts with Lanpro to sell their productive agricultural land; and that Lanpro had stated that an upgraded rail link would be the main factor governing the selection of this site.

 

Despite liaising with Mid Norfolk Railway for over two years, Lanpro had failed to present a plan worthy of consideration. To suggest that a garden town on this site would secure an economic future for new and existing communities along the rail route was totally absurd and misleading. There had been no evidence that this track could ever become a commercially viable commuter route. It was highly unlikely any train operating company would be interested in being involved in such a loss-making venture, sited at the very end of a deficient rail track and on the wrong side of an already often gridlocked East Dereham.

 

Lanpro cited a mere 12 minute drive along the only ‘A’ road in the area to join the Norwich/Cambridge corridor. This single ‘A’ road was hazardous in several places and was already speed restricted. There was no Northern Distributor Road link to make joining the corridor remotely realistic; even if there was, no one wanting to travel west or south would use a major road going east.  All other routes around the site for several miles in any direction were ‘B’ roads, each one passing through many villages and small communities.

 

Imagine the expense and the loss of yet more green land required to construct the necessary road improvements to Dereham, Swaffham, Watton and Brandon plus the strain that the increased traffic would put on these and all of the smaller communities in between.

 

George Freeman MP had quoted that, ‘the proposal lacked any serious plan to manage the major traffic implications and general disruption that a settlement of this size would create in such a rural area’.

 

Norfolk County Council Highways Department had stated that the money available would not scratch the surface for a town of that size. 

 

Significantly, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership had also not been contacted by Lanpro. The Partnership’s strategy highlighted several growth corridors warranting consideration for planned, sustainable growth; this site was not one of them.

 

Lanpro suggested in its prospectus, that the full extent of the land required to deliver the scheme was within their control. It said that it would deliver food production and manufacture, allotments, poultry farming, employment spaces for food processing and grazing on dually used recreational spaces. All this would be in addition to the housing and would be impossible on a site of fewer than 1300 acres.

 

This was not a little local difficulty with a small estate expected to spring up on the edge of a village. This was the wholescale destruction of everything village communities in the entire region stood for and their very existence was at stake.

This proposal, sited alongside Europe’s most protected river, was thoughtless, inaccurate, lazy and speculative with absolutely no merit.

On behalf of the residents of North Elmham, Billingford, Bintree, Foxley and Bawdeswell as well as those much further afield, she urged Breckland Council Members to support the recommendation and reject this proposal in its entirety.

 

The Chairman of North Elmham Parish Council then thanked everyone for allowing her the opportunity to speak”. 

 

The Leader, Councillor William Nunn thanked everyone involved who had taken the time to write to him with their concerns and also to the people who had submitted the petition against the proposal which he had recently received with some 1600 signatories.

 

He hoped that everyone had seen and had read the Council report but he wanted to provide some background and explain why the matter was being discussed.

 

In June 2018, Breckland Council was made aware of a proposal for a new Garden Town of some 10,000 new homes in an area of land between the villages of North Elmham and Bintree by the developers Lanpro.

 

In August 2018, the Government released a prospectus seeking expressions of interest for new communities to be delivered to Garden Town principles.

 

The Council had been asked by Lanpro to support their submission as one of the requirements of the prospectus was to gain local authority support, and as such the Council’s position had to be considered.

 

The requirement for local authority support had been reiterated via correspondence between the Member of Parliament, George Freeman and the Minister, Kit Malthouse.  The Minister had also replied to some members of the community who had written confirming this need.

 

The Leader then highlighted the following key issues:

 

·        The Council’s Local Plan, to identify future housing and commercial land, was currently at an advanced stage. The Government Inspector had been working with the Council during the summer to prepare the Plan for adoption in the spring 2019.  The proposal put forward by Lanpro had not at any time been promoted or considered as part of this process.

 

·        The Council had identified land to meet its housing need through the sites in the Local Plan and had consulted widely with all its communities to ensure that everyone had been given the opportunity to help shape the future of the District.

 

·        The Garden Town proposal would be significantly in excess of this requirement and having consulted with the Council’s neighbouring authorities, all had confirmed that they were able to meet their current allocations within their areas or as part of a joint planning arrangement.

 

·        The proposal’s scale and location differed significantly from the Local Plan and ultimately did not and would not fit within that framework.

 

·        Prior to the Council being contacted in June, no community engagement had been undertaken and even when Lanpro had been told that this was an essential part of any proposal, still no engagement took place between the proposer and the communities that would be gravely affected by the development.

 

·        The Council and the Government’s own prospectus would have expected to have seen some evidence of significant community engagement to accompany such a proposal.

 

Taking all these factors into account, the Leader stated that he and the Officers concerned, felt that the proposal should not receive the Council’s support and in conclusion, and in light of the conflict with the Local Plan and the lack of community engagement, the Council’s recommendation was that the Garden Town proposal should not be supported at this time. 

 

Members were informed that the Council’s preference for significant and strategic scale development proposals would be promoted through future reviews of the Council’s Local Plan in order to enable a full appraisal of the issues and appropriate consultation.

 

Councillor Gordon Bambridge as one of the Ward Members affected by the proposal had met with the potential developers in July 2018 when the matter became public. He had since attended many meetings in his Ward, including parish council meetings, who all wished to know more about this proposal.

 

Lanpro had answered many questions but a number of matters had not been adequatelyanswered and would need to be ‘bottomed out’ before an application could be considered by the Council.

 

Councillor Bambridge then highlighted the following issues:

 

·        The location itself, apart from the availability of land, offered little else to the general acceptability of the site. It was remote from main infrastructure connections in almost every area.

 

·        The matter of Europe’s most protected river, the Wensum, which lay below the escarpment on which the proposed town would be built, all around its western boundary, would need to be crossed at two points (Elmham near the station and County School).

 

·        Access to water. There were aquifers under much of this part of Norfolk and all provided some of the purest water in the area, and was now used to dilute and improve the standards of water in Norwich and most of central Norfolk and beyond.  This would have implications for the whole community of Norfolk.

 

·        Dealing with foul water, as mentioned above, the Wensum was in danger and the buffer zones proposed would be inadequate for 10,000 houses with perhaps in the region of 30,000 residents.

 

·        The suggestion that the railway was ‘on board’ seemed premature, and the costing for the upgrade required was inadequate.  This upgrade would cost in the region of £100m plus another £100m to connect to the main line – only £50m had been proposed.

 

·        The highways matters had not been fully considered. The £30m offered to upgrade the Western Link would probably be no more than 10% of its cost, and did not allow for the upgrade needed to the A1067, the B1145 and the B1110, and not including roads outside of the district. The main road to the proposed development would be the A1067 of which the speed was limited for most of its distance to the Broadland Northway and through to Taverham and Drayton, and the link to a single carriageway A47 had not been fully established.

 

·        The matter of environmental impact. This was open countryside with around 300 acres of Forestry Commission woodland with many rare species.  Animal, bird, reptile, invertebrate and plant species which, whilst not unique, were rare and at home in this area and just to the north of the site there were snails in protected habitat which could be affected. These species were listed as endangered and were currently included on the GB Red List.

 

·        The land also covered huge deposits of sand and gravel, and extraction had been locally opposed and whilst this had not been deemed necessary before, the County was currently reviewing its needs, and would continue to do so at regular intervals in future. Therefore, building a new town on this land would eliminate any option for future administrations.

 

Councillor Bambridge stated that the impact on the community in this part of central Norfolk should not be discounted. Three villages would essentially disappear and many others would be seriously affected, not just during construction. He was already being contacted by people whose sale of houses had fallen through, farmland and amenity land would disappear and historical and important sites would be overwhelmed. He felt that whatever justification was being put forward, this was genuinely a case of houses of the wrong numbers and in the wrong place.

 

Councillor Clarke echoed everything that Members had said; option 1 would be fully supported.  He pointed out that although there was a clear demonstrated need for housing, every major development needed to be of good quality, the housing needed to be of the right mix and in the right place.  Lanpro had no regard to community cohesion and had done nothing to reassure residents.  He was also concerned about the affect this would have on the Council’s Local Plan and on the town of Dereham and urged Members to support option 1.

 

Councillor Dimoglou highlighted the fact that the Parish Council had been made aware of this proposal by the Ward Member, Councillor Borrett.  He then pointed out that Breckland was woefully short of housing and felt that this, although considered as an ‘out of hand’ proposal, should not be discounted.

 

Councillor Brindle raised concerns about any future proposal that could come forward and asked all parishioners to keep a watching brief.

 

Councillor Borrett had represented these areas for many years and was pleased to see so many people in attendance.  He thanked the Officers and the Leader for bringing this matter to the Full Council meeting and for their very clear reasons and clear guidance for not supporting a proposal of this scale – a town, the size of Thetford, in the middle of the countryside.  There was a clear process in place for the Local Plan and although more housing was needed, consultation was key.  Issues such as roads, schools, traffic etc should be considered and any development should not have a detrimental effect on its surroundings.  He urged Members to support the recommendation thus sending a signal to Lanpro to engage with the communities and consider the Local Plan.

 

Councillor Wilkinson cared greatly about Breckland and if Lanpro had taken any advice he did not believe that this proposal would have come forward at this time.

 

Councillor Crawford agreed that Breckland Council had an adequate Local Plan and that 10,000 new homes in the countryside were not required.  He supported the recommendation of refusal.

 

Councillor Paul Hewett advised that this was not a moment for politics; this was about community and felt that this proposal had been ill judged and ill-conceived and had not met the basic levels of decency.  He also felt that such a proposal could not be thrown out forever but on this occasion he whole heartedly supported option 1.

 

Councillor Smith disagreed with the comments made by Councillor Dimoglou.  Members should choose their words with discretion as this was a situation that all political parties had created.  Such a proposal would not reduce the house prices for local people and the increase in population would exert a decrease in wages.  He then urged Members to read an interesting article that had been reported by the BBC.

 

The recommendation was then proposed by the Leader, Councillor William Nunn and seconded by many, and following a vote of 41 Members in support of the recommendation and 1 vote against the recommendation, it was:

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1.      the promoters submission of the Garden Town at North Elmham to the Government is not supported at this time; and

 

2.      the Council’s preference for significant and strategic scale development proposals be promoted through future reviews of the Council’s Local Plan in order to enable full appraisal of the issues and appropriate consultation be carried out.

Supporting documents: