Plans for homes on park slammed a 'scandal' as battle heats up

The Deer Park in Old Catton. Pictured inset is Asher Minns

The Deer Park in Old Catton. Pictured inset is Asher Minns, executive director of the UK-wide Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research - Credit: Peter Dent/University of East Anglia

A fierce battle over plans to build on cherished green space has seen villagers called on to oust the scheme after experts warned the development would set a precedent for others. 

Attleborough-based housing company Devlin Developments has purchased the Deer Park in Old Catton's Spixworth Road with a planning application for homes expected to be submitted within a year.

Allegations made last week that this process had moved forward have been vehemently denied by Devlin Developments boss, Lee Devlin.

Mr Devlin did not respond when asked about the expected timescale for the blueprints or the number of homes being considered. 

The developer recently rejected Old Catton Parish Council's bid to purchase the park with the authority holding a public meeting on Friday night to answer questions from concerned villagers. 

Folk were advised how to launch their objections to the plan during the meeting in the church hall. 

Asher Minns, executive director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has a base at the University of East Anglia, said developers en masse are eying greenfield sites over brownfield counterparts.

Asher Minns, executive director of the UK-wide Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Asher Minns, executive director of the UK-wide Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research - Credit: University of East Anglia

This is because brownfield sites often have buildings which need to be removed or altered. 

Mr Minns, who has visited the Deer Park from his Mile Cross home, said: "I do not think there is a need for any greenfield development in Norwich as it is one of the densest cities in England.

"All green spaces in Norwich and around the city should be designated and restored by the landowners and councils. 

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"The Deer Park is a beautiful open area within the landscape and it is an important green lung for a lot of people in and around the city.

"Those green lungs are essential. You would not remove a lung from a person so why do that to a city?" 

The climate expert emphasised the importance of the park for biodiversity, air quality and wellbeing - particularly after Covid. 

The horses in Deer Park, Old Catton inspired Anna Sewell to write Black Beauty.

The horses in Deer Park, Old Catton inspired Anna Sewell to write Black Beauty. - Credit: Peter Dent

He added: "Greenfield sites can be seen as a blank slate for the developer to do what they want. 

"If one plan like this gets approved it makes it easier for others to follow."

A Deer Park Action Group has been set up to fight against the park - which is located in a conservation area - from being built on.

Richard Potter, district councillor for Old Catton (Cons), said: "It is worrying but I have absolute faith in everything the parish council and the action group are doing.

"We do not want to see any building on this incredible piece of land and I will continue to oppose it at every opportunity. 

"The simple fact is this piece of land means a huge amount to use and must be protected." 

Previously Mr Devlin said he had plans to build on "a small part" of the land, adding: "My goal is not solely about money. It's about putting something good on the planet which is sustainable."

Richard Potter, district councillor for Old Catton 

Richard Potter, district councillor for Old Catton - Credit: Richard Potter

The news came as a shock to the sought-after suburban village as previous owners of the park, the Buxton family, had quashed ideas that the site could be turned into housing, adding: "that is not what the land is for". 

Judy Leggett, a committee member of the Old Catton Society, said: "The Deer Park is very important to the village of Old Catton and it was part of the Humphry Repton grand plan and part of the vision for Catton Park vista looking out and seeing the rising land.

"The society is of course keeping an eye on it and when the application comes up we will be making our thoughts about it known." 

Broadland councillor Judy Leggett. Picture: Broadland District Council

Judy Leggett, a committee member of the Old Catton Society - Credit: Archant

Mr Devlin previously said he reached an ongoing agreement with the owner of the horses in the park so the animals can continue to be kept on the land for the foreseeable future. 

Norwich ecologist and nature writer Kate Blincoe said: "It would be an absolute scandal if a conservation area like this is lost. It’s such an irreplaceable, important part of the character of the area.

Kate Blincoe and children (photo: Phil Barnes)

Kate Blincoe and children (photo: Phil Barnes) - Credit: Archant

"While development is needed to meet housing requirements it must be appropriately located. Sacrificing a valuable green space like this is short-sighted and plain wrong."