Could planning loophole affect developments at Cringleford, Hethersett and Wymondham?

A period of growth is on the horizon for Norwich, with 37,000 new homes planned in and around the city by 2026. In the third part of a week-long series, we look at the proposals along the A11 corridor.

The urban expansion blueprint for Norwich reveals a strategic north-south divide outside the city's boundaries.

To the north, the lion's share of housing allocation has been concentrated into the growth triangle surrounding Rackheath.

And to the south, a more fragmented approach sees proposed new homes scattered around existing towns and villages.

But while the dispersal tactic aims to spread the burden of meeting construction targets, a combination of factors has also created a window of opportunity for speculative developers.

The Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) has earmarked large-scale growth along the A11, with 1,200 new homes allocated in Cringleford, 1,000 in Hethersett and 2,200 in Wymondham.

But South Norfolk Council, one of the GNDP partners, is yet to finalise its list of preferred 'site allocations' to decide exactly where that growth should come.

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Until it does, the council is unable to provide a five-year supply of housing land – meaning its planning committee is compelled to consider schemes outside the prescribed settlement boundaries.

The loophole has prompted a series of large applications, including for 350 homes off Norwich Common in Wymondham, which were 'reluctantly' approved in September despite widespread opposition.

That decision has been put on hold by the council after communities minister Eric Pickles chose to over-rule a similar approval in Winchester, where Cala Homes hoped to build 2,000 houses.

South Norfolk leader John Fuller said the decision gave hope to councils battling what he described as 'cut-and-run developers'.

Mr Fuller, a former chairman of the GNDP, said: 'We are working with the highest levels of government to ensure that councils like ours can protect themselves from cut-and-run developers.

'The real villain of the piece is the five-year land supply. If builders can prove we do not have a five-year supply ahead of us, they feel they can build wherever they like.

'But there is a glimmer of hope. The planning committee, with its arm twisted up its back, approved the Norwich Common plan on September 28 because there was no alternative in law. The very next day, Mr Pickles published his decision on Winchester. If localism means anything, then ministers will give us the transitional authority we need to complete our plans in good order, rather than being held over a barrel.'

The Norwich Common application, submitted by Landstock Estates Ltd and Landowners Group, lies immediately north of the Beckets Grove site where Persimmon wants to build 323 homes, and close to the Whispering Oaks development, where another 375 are under construction. On the other side of the town, 1,300 more homes are planned at Rightup Lane.

Wymondham mayor Neil Ward said: 'To be quite honest, the majority of people in Wymondham accept the target of 2,200.

'But people wish the developers would play fair and wait for the site specific allocations rather than trying to get in under the wire.'

Campaigners fear the cumulative developments risk filling in the green corridor between Wymondham and Hethersett – where outline plans were submitted earlier this month by Hethersett Land Ltd for 1,196 new homes on the village's northern fringe.

James Utting, a spokesman for the Hands Off Hethersett action group, said: 'Firstly, we challenge the assertion that such a large numbers of homes (37,000) will be needed in the area covered by the GNDP.

'Those figures were reached before the current financial crisis and clearly the economic landscape is very different as a result.

'Hethersett is a long-established village which has grown organically over several centuries – consequently there is a very strong sense of community. To 'parachute in' this enormous development will, at a stroke, swamp the village, doubling its size and changing its character for ever. The infrastructure, which is stretched to its limits at the moment, will not be able to cope.'

In Cringleford, where 1,200 homes are allocated within the GNDP's joint core strategy (JCS), early scoping reports have been issued to test the water for 2,000 homes at Newfound Farm and 600 east of the Norwich bypass.

Parish clerk Anne Barnes said: 'The feeling of the parish council is that 1,200 is the maximum we can take at this point in time.

'Cringleford has already doubled in size in the last 10 years and now they're asking us to take another 1,200. To have 2,000 would double the village again and we cannot do that in such a short space of time.

'We feel a more gradual approach is a much better option.

'At the same time we are hoping to work with the developers to get the right infrastructure in place to make sure the village grows in a natural way.'

Cringleford has been chosen to take part in the government's Front Runners Project which encourages local residents to influence development decisions by creating a neighbourhood plan. A public exhibition to discuss people's ideas will be held at Cringleford Pavilion on November 25 and 26.

About 1,500 sites have been put forward by landowners and developers as potential site allocations for South Norfolk – 15 times the amount needed to meet the targets laid out in the JCS.