Why are house builders ignoring eyesore sites and targeting parks?

The plot off Mousehold Lane, Norwich, where building work for a care home has already started

The plot off Mousehold Lane, Norwich, where building work for a care home has already started - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

Brownfield 'eyesore' sites need to be the focus for new, much-needed affordable homes in a bid to protect green spaces in the city.

The call is being made by Green campaigners after plans for 45 affordable retirement flats on part of the former Start-Rite plot in Mousehold Lane were rejected by Norwich City Council.

Birmingham-based developers Housing 21 wanted to build behind the site currently being developed for a 79-bed care home, to be operated by Avery Healthcare, which is under construction.

In a report, City Hall officers said: "While it is acknowledged that the redevelopment of this vacant brownfield site would have benefits for the local area and that the 45 dwellings would make a contribution to local housing supply, these benefits are not so significant as to outweigh the harm the scale and density of development would cause to the local area."

Extinction Rebellion activist Jenn Parkhouse, from Norwich, has been campaigning on environmental is

Jenn Parkhouse, senior campaigner for Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth - Credit: Jenn Parkhouse

Jenn Parkhouse, senior campaigner for Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth, said: "Brownfield sites should be looked at first.

"Because Norwich was a manufacturing centre there are a considerable number of sites that would be appropriate. Last on the list should be in conservation areas where people go for walking and cycling.

"We are hearing on a daily basis about a reduction of wildlife habitats and bird populations decreasing. 

"In brownfield sites there are issues about contamination which need to be taken care of but some developers don't want to budget for that expense. They would rather move to virgin areas. It is outrageous. There is a need for more housing and social housing.

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"Brownfield sites need to be redeveloped because a lot of them are an absolute eyesore and waste of space. It is wrong because they sit there for decades and then you get penthouse apartments built on them."

She added that greenfield plots should only be considered for redevelopment in a "set of amazing circumstances" but said: "I cannot think of a situation like that and there would have to have been an exhaustive attempt to renovate brownfield sites."

The campaigner, who lives in Mile Cross, said it was unbelievable if housing plans were put forward for the nearby Deer Park in Old Catton adding the situation of house development on greenfield plots compared to brownfield areas was "skewed".

Green Party Broadland district councillor Eleanor Laming

Green Party Broadland councillor Eleanor Laming - Credit: Contributed

Eleanor Laming, who represents the Green Party on Broadland District Council for Postwick, said: "We need housing but it needs to be for people on low incomes or young people struggling to get on to the housing ladder. It has to be the right type of housing in the right place."

This included being high quality with green space and easy access to public transport.

"We need the countryside. People move to Norwich away from big cities because of the good quality of life. Up until now it has been relatively unspoilt. We are starting to see the damage of development," added Mrs Laming.

Bill Couzens, deputy chair of Sprowston Town Council. Picture: Bill Couzens

Sprowston Town Council chairman Bill Couzens - Credit: Bill Couzens

Bill Couzens, Sprowston Town Council chairman, said the council backed the Housing 21 plans because it was a good site and more affordable homes for the elderly were needed.

Mr Couzens said: "It is a matter of balance. We need to protect green spaces. Within new developments we are always looking to push for green spaces."

He added district councils historically struggled with five-year housing supplies and developers would use that when appealing planning refusals for homes on greenfield plots at secretary of state level.

The chairman said the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP) was a way to tackle the issue.

Geoff Reynolds, Housing 21 property development manager, said he was frustrated with the refusal but the firm was keen on developing the plot for "good quality homes".

How the three-storey retirement apartment block would look off Mousehold Lane in Norwich

How the three-storey retirement apartment block would have looked off Mousehold Lane in Norwich if it had got planning permission from Norwich City Council - Credit: Housing 21

Mr Reynolds said: "Within the sector we are very keen to use brownfield sites. That site has been redundant for years and with the care home under construction it would a shame if the plot behind remained empty."

The city council has been approached for comment.

What is the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP)?

The GNLP was formally submitted to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to examine in late-July. 

Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council are working together for the project. 

They suggested more than 500 locations after a call for sites in 2015 and another 200 were subsequently put forward in 2018.

The plan's objectives include providing "high-quality homes of the right density, size, mix and tenure to meet people’s needs". 

But there has been debate about how the homes should be spread out across the three districts. 

Councillor Shaun Vincent, chairman of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership said: "We need to make sure that future growth brings benefits for all, while protecting our environment and providing for a sustainable future."