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‘Victory for children of Dereham and health of our town’ - Controversial housing application exposes planning failings

PUBLISHED: 09:04 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:19 22 March 2018

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

Breckland Council. Picture: Ian Burt

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A formal complaint made by a town council has exposed how planning officers working on behalf of Breckland District Council have been misinterpreting planning policy.

The site plan for the Greenfields Road development. Picture: Orbit Homes The site plan for the Greenfields Road development. Picture: Orbit Homes

The district council sent a letter to Dereham Town Council on March 12, which stated that the complaint made in January had prompted them to obtain legal advice.

They concluded that planning officers, working for outsourcing company Capita, had misinterpreted a policy, known as DC11, which dictates the amount of outdoor playing space required for a development.

The complaint alleged that Capita had been attempting to make the DC11 policy fit a controversial application submitted by Orbit Homes, rather than ensure the application fit the policy.

The Orbit homes application is for up to 280 new properties on Greenfields Road in Dereham and it has faced widespread criticism from councillors and the community over playing space. This has resulted in it being deferred at planning committees multiple times.

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman. Pic: Conservative Party. Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman. Pic: Conservative Party.

A spokesperson for Breckland District Council said: “The applicant is currently revising its plans and the latest proposals are expected to be presented to Planning Committee in due course, following a period of public consultation.”

Mid-Norfolk’s MP George Freeman said he was “delighted” by the conclusion.

“This is a victory for common sense, which I’m delighted to have led with Tony Needham and Dereham town councillors, and a victory for the children of Dereham, for the health of our town, and for the voice of local communities on planning.

“For too long greedy developers have been allowed to pack new houses in like sardines without giving enough play area for children. Would the developers and planning officers want their children to go without play space? No. That is why there has been a guideline. It needs to be complied with. Every child needs space to play in.”

While the town council’s focus was on the Orbit Homes application, the result could also impact other applications and Breckland noted in their response to the town council that they would be advising other applicants of the implications.

Anthony Needham, town council clerk, called the outcome “great news” for all applications within the district. He noted that since the DC11 policy was introduced the deficit in playing space in Dereham had increased, which illustrated how vital it is for Capita to interpret the policy correctly.

“If this development had been designed correctly by Orbit Homes and Capita had correctly understood the policy, then this site would be making a significant contribution to Breckland Council’s five year housing land supply,” he added.

District Councillor Alison Webb has also been vocal about the issues with Orbit’s application and said she was “delighted” that proper regard has been taken to the Breckland policy requirements.

“This in my opinion is a victory for the local community,” she said.

“The strength of feeling was shown by the high number of objectors to the current Orbit plans being proposed who attended the open meetings I held alongside my fellow Councillors and Dereham Town Council.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that the community is not objecting to houses being built but the fact that the current plans were not providing the policy requirements - a shortfall of areas for sport.

“The policy states this is the requirement and that is what should be required, not use the land for squeezing in additional housing. Dereham has the highest deficit across Breckland of outdoor play area, this is appalling and we must not allow this situation become even worse.”

Breckland’s relationship with Capita

A spokesperson for Breckland District Council said Capita’s involvement in planning is to provide advice for council decision-makers.

“Breckland commissions Capita to provide planning and building control services on behalf of the council,” he said.

“In this role, Capita staff assess applications against relevant council policies and make recommendations, however responsibility for deciding whether to approve or refuse an application rests either with the council members who sit on the Planning Committee or with senior council officers, depending on the complexity of the application.”

The relationship has been called into question a number of times, including by MP George Freeman who sent a letter to Breckland council in July 2017.

In the letter he said he was beginning to share community “suspicions” that the relationship is “inappropriate”. He said Capita acts for the development applicants, which compromises the integrity of the planning process and the public trust.

What do you think of planning in Breckland? Email reporter Steve Shaw.

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