Fears grow over plans for new Norwich homes

Sarah HallFears are growing that thousands of homes could be foisted on the area around Norwich without vital infrastructure such as water and roads in place to cope.Sarah Hall

Fears are growing that thousands of homes could be foisted on the area around Norwich without vital infrastructure such as water and roads in place to cope.

Concerns were raised in the wake of a move for up to 4,000 new homes in Hethersett, against a blueprint developed by local authorities.

Because that blueprint - known as the Joint Core Strategy - has yet to be rubber-stamped, councillors fear speculative developers will try to get in applications before it is agreed, making it harder for planning committees to turn down planning permission.

Council leaders from the Greater Norwich Development Partnership - including Norwich City, South Norfolk, Broadland Council and Norfolk councils - are furious that landowners and developers keen to make money are trying to undo the work done to ensure the area around Norwich can cope with new housing.

One councillor likened the situation to 'gannets gathering' with landowners and developers eyeing up areas where new homes could be built even though the Joint Core Strategy does not identify the land for housing.

And there are fears that if those homes are built, vital infrastructure such as water supply and waste water disposal will not be able to cope with so many new homes, while extra pressure will be heaped on roads.

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Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'We need to be able to keep control of where we put homes and jobs or there could be major consequences.'

Derek Blake, South Norfolk Council's cabinet member for planning, housing and the built environment, confirmed that the suggestion by a consortium of landowners of up to 4,000 new homes on land to the north of Hethersett was not part of the Joint Core Strategy which concluded the village could just about cope with only 1,000 extra homes.

He said: 'In a year the Joint Core Strategy agreed between South Norfolk and its partner councils will be in force. That strategy, also agreed in consultation with the community, does not include a plan for 4,000 homes at Hethersett.

'As part of the work of the JCS, a water cycle study has been carried out showing we have a current and ongoing serious problem, particularly disposing of waste water, but also with providing the water supply in the first place and the impact of this on locally important and sensitive environments.

'The study also suggests significant infrastructure investment will be needed across the whole Greater Norwich area to resolve this issue.'

Mr Blake said he was worried more developers would try to get the green light while the strategy is still being agreed, warning that 'the gannets are gathering'.

But he said the council was determined to ensure such speculative developments had to be subject to detailed scrutiny, which in some cases might deter the bids.

He said: 'For developers, that means carrying out comprehensive environmental impact assessments which protect sensitive sites and address and resolve these very serious water and infrastructure issues.'

Those assessments can take a year to process, by which time the JCS should have been agreed, shutting the potential loophole.

Mr Blake said: 'An environmental impact assessment normally takes up to a year to conclude and will involve close consultations with a range of service providers and regulatory agencies.

'We are keen to encourage all developers to work with us and the local community to support the development of a common strategy for the area.'

Mr Morphew added: 'We know there are speculative developers looking to exploit loopholes, who are much more interested in private gain than in the social consequences of what they are doing.

'From Norwich's perspective a development of that size in Hethersett, which is not part of the Joint Core Strategy, would place a huge amount of pressure on the infrastructure and we are not convinced the water system to the south of Norwich would be able to cope with it.

'It would also put pressure on Newmarket Road, Unthank Road and the southern bypass because it would lead to far more traffic. The JCS is meant to prevent things like that to enable homes to be built in areas where the infrastructure can cope.'

Are you fighting a planning application where you live? Call Evening News reporter Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk