Agenda item

Thetford Town Centre MasterPlan (Agenda item 9)

Report of Mark Kiddle-Morris, Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development.

 

Please note that the Thetford Town Master Plan (Development Framework and Delivery Plan) is attached as a separate document due to its size and colour content.

Minutes:

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development presented the report that asked Members to consider the outcome of the Thetford Town Centre Masterplanning process and to agree that the Thetford Town Centre Masterplan be adopted as a Council document to coordinate investment and regeneration activity in Thetford town centre.

 

It was noted that Norfolk County Council had not part funded this Masterplan.

 

A presentation was provided by the Joint Deputy Planning Manager and the Growth Programme Manager.

 

The Thetford Town Centre Masterplan work followed a number of studies and plans commissioned and prepared in the last decade that had sought to promote developments within the town centre.  Following a robust and transparent procurement process, Allies and Morrison – Urban Practitioners had been appointed as consultants for the Masterplan and the delivery framework.  A key stakeholder consultation event had been held early on in the process attended by an array of representatives from Breckland Council, Norfolk County Council, Thetford Town Council, retailers, businesses and local groups.  The Masterplan had responded to all the issues and opportunities that had been identified from the event.

 

In terms of the process, the Baseline report had identified that traditional methods of delivery would be unlikely to happen. Thetford was going to have to concentrate on changing the area from retail to leisure activities within the town centre.

 

Sections of the Masterplan on the supplementary agenda were highlighted.

 

The Growth Programme Manager gave a detailed explanation on the transport section.

 

Questions were then invited.

 

The Vice-Chairman referred to the Masterplan status and asked if the Masterplan document would hold any weight in the planning process.  He also asked where the funding was coming from.  In response to the first question, the Joint Deputy Planning Manager explained that the adopted Masterplan document would not hold full weight in the planning process unlike the Local Development Framework and the Thetford Area Action Plan (TAAP); however, it would be of material consideration in the planning process alongside the TAAP.  In terms of the funding available, there were a number of legal agreements/S106 agreements through planning to deliver the Masterplan.  The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development said that the document would have some weight as it would be used in pre-planning to assist the developers with the vision.

 

Councillor Kybird pointed out that the Stakeholders/Consultation part of the report was incorrect as he, as a Thetford Town Council Member, had only received a presentation and had not been suitably consulted on the document. He further pointed out a number of inaccuracies within the Masterplan itself that required urgent attention and suggested another loop of consultation including the Moving Thetford Forward Board.

 

The Chairman of the Planning Committee had issues with the lack of car parking provision within the document and felt that town centres should be provided with ample parking to attract more visitors.  He gave Bury St Edmunds as an example of how a good shopping centre should be. The Growth Programme Manager advised that transport matters were Norfolk County Council’s responsibility but assured Members that the visions could, over the life of this document, be subject to change.

 

On the whole, the Opposition Leader thought that the attention and focus this document had brought had been very worthwhile, and although he had a variety of questions, the transport aspect had caused the greatest concern within the community, and he concurred with the issues raised by the Chairman of the Planning Committee.  The community buy-in to this Masterplan was crucial; the Town Council knew its people well and it needed a town that the Thetford people could be proud of.  The Opposition Leader also mentioned the deliverability which, in his opinion, read like the many similar documents that he had seen before over the past few years.

 

The Overview & Scrutiny Commission Chairman was pleased that Members had seen sight of this document at long last.  Many of his concerns had been voiced already but his main concern was that this document, in its first draft, should have been presented to an Overview & Scrutiny Commission meeting for debate.  He felt that the residents of Thetford needed assurance that this Masterplan had full weight and again echoed the fundamental concerns raised in relation to parking.  He stated that he would much rather travel the 8 miles to Thetford to do his shopping rather than having to pay a fortune in Norwich to park.  Thetford was the jewel of Breckland that had constantly been scuffed and had been dumped on in the past.  This Council now had a once in a lifetime opportunity to revitalise the town bearing in mind that it was the gateway to Norfolk.  Thetford could become the hub for the whole of Breckland and needed to have full weight behind it therefore, the reduction in car parking spaces, in his opinion, was completely facile as people living in rural areas needed their cars.  Additionally, Thetford was one of the most historic towns in the East of England and this document should be the fundamental plank in planning policy for Breckland.  He implored Members to get it right and give it the full weight it deserved.

 

Councillor Claussen asked where the instruction on parking had come from.  He also had concerns about the reduction in parking spaces and quoted a former Member’s plea - to have a masterplan that included the hinterlands.

 

In relation to car parking issues, in terms of the instruction, the Joint Deputy Planning Manager advised that this had been considered at National Policy level and in terms of managing car use this would form part of the wider Transport Strategy.  Members were further advised that the historic fabric of the town centre would inhibit the viability of parking and in terms of taking these issues forward, public transport would be increased as part of the TAAP.  As far as consultation was concerned, taking the Masterplan to the Overview & Scrutiny Commission was an option.

 

The Executive Member for Internal Services said that there were many areas in Breckland that did not have public transport therefore the car was a necessity and a sensible policy on car parking changes would aid plans such as this.

 

The Executive Member for Asset & Strategic Development said that all market towns had been designed for horse and carts – what Members had in front of them was a best guess but all had comprises.  If Members wanted weight to be added to this document it would have to be included in the Local Plan which, in turn, could then take a further 18 months.

 

The Chairman suggested a way forward on what he thought he had heard from the meeting.  Firstly, the Masterplan had been accepted as a draft document; secondly, further consultation was needed in respect of Thetford Town Council and the Moving Thetford Forward Board and finally, the Council needed a document based on reality and action and timescales moving forward and be put through the planning structures and necessary committee processes as a piece of supplementary planning guidance.

 

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development emphasised that Members needed to be clear what they wanted; this was one person’s opinion that the Council had paid for and he did not want it changed beyond recognition.

 

The Joint Deputy Planning Manager advised that a supplementary planning document would require full public consultation in order to meet the necessary requirements of that process and would extend the timeline further.  In response, the Chairman believed that the document had to have weight otherwise what was the point.

 

Councillor Kybird was not comfortable with the thought of extending the timeline and suggested that the document should be corrected of errors and be brought back into the loop when the TAAP was replaced by the first draft of the new Local Plan.  In response, the Joint Deputy Planning Manager assured Members that the Masterplan as it stood would have some weight in the planning process as it would be used when pre-determining planning applications.  He agreed that some elements of the document required correcting and concurred with Councillor Kybird’s suggestion.

 

The Executive Member for Assets & Strategic Development stated that this document had been borne out of Policy TH1 and provided vision of what was possible rather than what could be done.

 

The Vice-Chairman felt that the document should be sent back to its creators as parts of it were not factually correct.  Members were informed that the work had not, as yet, been paid for in full so there was scope to have these corrections incorporated.

 

The Executive Member for Internal Services thought that the Council had been inundated with Plans and hoped that this one would be the last.

 

Following further discussion, a revised recommendation was suggested which was accordingly proposed and seconded.

 

Option 1

 

Members consider the Thetford Town Centre Masterplan and agree that it be recommended to be adopted as a document of the Council to coordinate investment and regeneration in Thetford Town Centre.

 

Option 2

 

Members consider the Thetford Town Centre Masterplan and agree that it not be adopted as a document of the Council.

 

Reasons

 

It was recommended that Members endorse option 1 which would allow for the Masterplan to take effect in coordinating investment and regeneration activity in Thetford town centre.   It was timely that the Council had a masterplan in place as it considered future options for its asset base.  In the short term, despite challenging market conditions, there was funding available for Thetford Town Centre, and a Masterplan would enable those monies to be spent in an effective and synchronized way.  The Masterplan would also be a consideration in the determination of planning applications when formally adopted.

 

Endorsing option 2 would have the impact of creating uncertainty for investment and facilitating piecemeal and adhoc developments that could cause harm and long term damage to the town centre whilst simultaneously preventing coordinated and comprehensive regeneration which would benefit the town over the longer term.

 

RESOLVED that the matter be referred back to Officers to undertake a wider consultation to include the Moving Thetford Forward Board, Thetford Town Council and the community following which a report be produced for Members consideration prior to Full Council on 5 September 2013.

Supporting documents: