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Norwich housing debate focused on Rackheath 'growth triangle'

PUBLISHED: 14:32 18 November 2011 | UPDATED: 14:51 18 November 2011

Stephen Heard, left, and Stewart Lindsay of SNUB talking with Brian Mahoney, whose father Lt Col James Mahoney was second in command of the wartime USAF base in Rackheath, now at the centre of Norwich's 'growth triangle'. Photo: Bill Smith

Stephen Heard, left, and Stewart Lindsay of SNUB talking with Brian Mahoney, whose father Lt Col James Mahoney was second in command of the wartime USAF base in Rackheath, now at the centre of Norwich's 'growth triangle'. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2011

An unprecedented period of growth lies ahead for Norwich, with 37,000 new homes planned in and around the city by 2026. In the second part of a week-long series, we look at the proposals for the north-eastern 'growth triangle'.

Amid all the ambitious growth plans for Norwich, one particular area has become the focus for the largest house-building targets – and the most vocal public outcry.

Of the 37,000 new homes proposed by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership’s (GNDP) joint core strategy (JCS), 10,000 have been allocated within the “growth triangle” to the north-east of the city.

The area runs along the fringes of Old Catton, Sprowston and Thorpe St Andrew and extends outwards to envelop the village of Rackheath.

It incorporates the government-backed “Eco Community” proposals, promising a low-carbon settlement of 4,000 homes.

And in the triangle’s western corner, Beyond Green has consulted the public on a similarly eco-conscious scheme, with a planning application for 3,300 homes due to be submitted in the spring.

The growth triangle would push Norwich’s urban boundary outwards into green fields and farmland – to the outrage of many living in those areas.

Campaign group Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) has delivered a petition to parliament containing 3,500 signatures opposing the plans, and has also launched a legal bid to overturn the whole strategy.

SNUB chairman Stephen Heard said the concerns ranged from the loss of agricultural land to a lack of local jobs through the “flawed” consultation which his group is contesting in the courts.

Council officials pointed out that the JCS had been subjected to lengthy public scrutiny, and was deemed sound by a government inspector before its adoption.

Mr Heard said: “We have been called a pressure group, but that’s not what we are. We are a community campaign group. We are actually living the ideals of the Big Society and localism in representing what the residents want.

“We have been really disappointed with the sheer arrogance of local and national politicians not listening to what the people want.

“We are very clear about the fact that we recognise the need for houses. We are all parents and grandparents and we support a dispersed development to house the younger generations. We have always said this is not the place to build a concrete jungle with no soul and no infrastructure. It is much better to build in communities who can support these new houses, and may well need them.

“Part of this development here is to bring jobs into the area, but most of the job opportunities are nowhere near here. You’ve got millions of pounds of investment going into Lotus and the Norwich Research Park, but there is nothing about new job opportunities here.”

A GNDP spokesman said: “The strategy was drawn up over a period of four years, including a number of public and stakeholder consultations, culminating in a public examination where a planning inspector found it to be fit for purpose.”

The Beyond Green project promises a “walkable environment” including shopping precincts, a central square, commercial areas, green open spaces and allotments – all linked by eco-friendly public transport and cycleways.

Jonathan Smales, chairman of the Beyond Green group, said greenfield developments should not automatically be written off as destructive.

“The population of the UK is growing rapidly and we are very sympathetic to the notion that the priority must be to build on brownfield sites. But the idea that a boundary of a town or city should never change is a weird notion.

“We would be fossilising the boundaries of all places if we never had any greenfield development.

“In certain situations where you can mend an urban edge and put systems in place which are intrinsically sustainable, then it is not only defensible, it can be a very good thing.

“I am not for a second decrying the environmental campaigns but neither would I want to be in a camp that says we should never build on greenfield land under any circumstances. You cannot tar every project with the same brush.”

Mr Smales said the development would increase public access to open spaces including Beeston Park and Red Hall Farm, as well as providing more trees and natural habitat within the planned open spaces.

Promoters of the neighbouring Rackheath Eco-Community have reassured supporters that the pioneering green scheme is still in progress, despite the challenging economic climate.

Negotiations are continuing between Broadland Council and Barratts Strategic to promote the 926-acre site for 4,000 homes, on-site energy production and public transport systems.

Other development plans in the north-east of Norwich include the Rackheath Exemplar project – Broadland District Council’s partnership with Barratt Homes to build 200 energy-efficient homes – and a plan to build 1,233 houses, recreation areas and a primary school off Blue Boar Lane in Sprowston.

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