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Pinebanks poll: Were councillors right to turn down proposals for 260 homes in Thorpe St Andrew?

The original Victorian house and Taylor's Tower on the Pinebanks site. Picture: Adrian Judd.

The original Victorian house and Taylor's Tower on the Pinebanks site. Picture: Adrian Judd.

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The future of a boarded-up sports ground in Thorpe St Andrew has been thrown into fresh doubt after a surprise decision to reject plans for over 200 new homes being built there.

The linked proposals for 215 homes at Pinebanks, the former Norwich Union sports ground, and 52 homes in nearby Griffin Lane were finally brought before Broadland District Council’s planning committee yesterday.

However a packed public gallery were left shocked when councillors voted against the plans, going against a report prepared by council officers ahead of the meeting advising councillors to approve them.

It now remains to be seen what the owners of the two sites, Jersey-based Berliet Ltd, will do next.

A spokesman for the company’s development managers, Ocubis, said: “We are disappointed that despite an officer recommendation and widespread support from the community, town council and Thorpe St Andrew School, we were not able to get on with delivering the package of community benefits that the proposals included.

Pinebanks history

February 2008 – Members of Pinebanks informed by Norwich Union, now Aviva, that the site would be shutting. Members told the site is worth almost £500,000 in real estate and over 30 sport socieites are immediately left searching for a new home.

December 2009 – It emerges Jersey-based Berliet Ltd have purchased the Pinebanks site from Norwich Union, although the company insists it has no firm plans and the site may not be developed for five years.

November 2010 – Local residents join forces with Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and district councillors to make clear to Berliet Ltd’s development manager, Ocubis, that provision for sports facilities were included in any plans.

January 2012 – Broadland District Council head of planning Phil Courtier warned any Pinebanks development would be unacceptable were new facilities not equal to those lost when the site closed in 2008.

May 2012 – Ocubis reveals its plans for 215 homes at Pinebanks, alongside 52 homes at Griffin Lane. and reveals a ‘sports hub’ which would create new sport facilities, including a skate park and cricket training facilities, and bring redundant football pitches back into use.

“We will now consider our options.”

The plans for 215 houses on the Pinebanks site were voted to be refused by 12 of the 15 councillors on the planning committee.

Twelve councillors also voted to refuse an application to demolish the vacant buildings on the Pinebanks site, which did not include the Grade II listed Victorian Taylor’s Tower and second world war zero radio station.

While on the third application, for 52 affordable homes at Griffin Lane, there were 10 councillors who voted to refuse.

The Pinebanks and Griffin Lane sites were linked by one set of planning agreements offered by the developer amounting to around £3m in community benefits.

That is because over 30 sports societies were left without a home when Pinebanks was closed in February 2008, so campaigners had been calling for the district council to ensure the lost sports facilities were replaced as part of the plans.

Mike Riches, from the Friends of Thorpe St Andrew (FOTSA) campaign group, spoke to councillors at the start of the meeting and urged them to reject the plans.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Riches said he was “very pleased” the plans have been rejected, saying: “This is very encouraging as far as our local community is concerned.

“We are very keen to pursue our vision of providing open access community sports and leisure facilities on the Pinebanks site and are still willing to work with the developer to see this vision become a reality.”

The developers had attempted to compensate for the loss of the sports facilities by pledging several planning agreements.

These included £997,000 towards a new sports facility at Thorpe St Andrew School, for which there is pre-existing planning permission.

This also included £25,000 for reinstating two football pitches at Dussindale Recreation Ground and £80,000 towards a skate park, while £400,000 would contribute towards a new town council community facility.

Ian Clayton, headteacher of Thorpe St Andrew School, was another of the public speakers at the start of the meeting, speaking of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and urging councillors to approve the plans.

Thorpe town councillor Jonathan Emsall, who had particularly worked on ensuring a skate park’s inclusion in the proposal, had also spoken in favour of the plans.

Mr Emsall said: “The money available will give the town council the ability to improve and update our buildings without taking out loans.”

However councillors were unhappy that Broadland’s affordable housing minimum for sites of 33pc was not being met, at under 25pc, and that an estate of only affordable housing was being created on the Griffin Lane site, rather than spread across the two sites.

Most of the councillors were also charmed by the original Victorian house attached to Taylor’s Tower, which had subsequently had unsightly modern sporting facilities added to it.

Many of the councillors voted against the demolition application as they felt the original house should be added to the exemptions.

- Do you think the councillors made the right decision? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or vote in our Pinebanks poll above and leave your comments below.

- For more about the history of the Pinebanks saga, see the links at the top-right of this page.

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