Norwich’s future: Sustainable growth or urban sprawl?
The next 15 years are expected to bring 37,000 new homes, a dramatically increased population and improved economic prospects to Norwich and its surrounding communities.
That is the vision of the council planners preparing for an unprecedented period of change which could shape the region for generations.
But will these ambitious growth plans meet the aspirations of a sustainable utopia with 27,000 new jobs, or create an unsightly urban sprawl eroding the city's unique character and its cherished rural hinterland?
The Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) has outlined where it believes new housing and businesses need to be built by 2026 in order to meet the needs of a growing population and ensure the city's long-term prosperity.
The partnership's Joint Core Strategy (JCS) – a combined effort involving councils in Norwich, Broadland and South Norfolk – covers an area radiating outwards from the city centre as far as Aylsham to the north, Hingham to the west, Diss to the south and Acle to the east.
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As many as 10,000 homes are expected to become part of a focused 'growth triangle' to the north east of the city – a complete new community which will incorporate the 'eco town' proposals for Rackheath.
To the south, a contrasting strategy could see thousands more spread around towns and villages including Hethersett, Wymondham, Cringleford and Mulbarton.
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Some of those communities have mounted defiant campaigns against the huge construction plans which they fear could blight the countryside forever.
And a legal challenge mounted by the Stop Norwich Urbanisation (Snub) pressure group could yet de-rail the strategy, with a High Court hearing scheduled for December 6.
But even as councils continue work to allocate their preferred sites, some speculative house-builders have already put their plans on the table, spurred on by the planning policy reforms of a pro-development government.
Among the groups opposing large-scale developments are the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
David Hook, of CPRE Norfolk's planning policy team, pictured, said: 'Broadly speaking, the protection of the countryside is seriously jeopardised by this.
'We have got a special city here which really works, with a beautiful hinterland of countryside.
'Where do we want it to be in 15 years? They see a Norwich policy area with 50,000 extra people, and Norwich becoming the size of Nottingham.
'We have to ask ourselves, what is that Norwich going to be like? Will it still have the same low crime rate, the same low unemployment, the same quality of life?
'We don't want to come across as 'nimbys'.
'CPRE is not against growth or economic development, but what we need in Norwich is a level of growth which is appropriate to local needs and which is of benefit to those who live here.
'If we build these houses in East Anglia which are two-thirds the price of a house in London or the South East, then of course people are going to move up here.
'Is that demand led or supply led?
'They are trying to make out that this population growth is a given – that 50,000 people will come here and there is nothing we can do about it.
'But if we build cheaper housing, all we will do is suck people in through the A11.'
Mr Hook said local authority housing figures gave a better gauge of housing need.
Of the 14,000 people on housing waiting lists within the three councils, 70pc are classified as low priority, leaving about 4,000 'in housing need'.
'The provision of 37,000 homes for 4,000 people is an absolute mis-match,' said Mr Hook.
Phil Kirby, chief executive of Broadland District Council and a key figure within the GNDP, said: 'The general idea that the countryside is under threat is just a bad perception.
'If you just take the growth triangle it is very easy to say it will create urban sprawl and 7,000 houses will cover it totally.
'But about 40pc of that plan is green spaces and green corridors, so it is not wall-to-wall development.
'There are three reasons why we need this growth.
'One is that people are living longer.
'Two is that people are choosing to live in smaller households for a variety of different reasons.
'Irrespective of population growth, those two factors mean we need to provide more housing, no matter what.
'We cannot get away from the fact that this part of the country is an attractive place for people to relocate to.
'There is an argument to say we are fuelling that by building more houses, but we cannot control that. The issue is trying to improve the economic conditions so that not only do we meet the requirements of those moving into the area, but also for those already living here. Without that growth, their conditions won't improve.
'We are doing this for the future – providing homes for that generation of people who are in secondary school at the moment.'