Controversial proposals to build a new 'railway town' the size of Cromer in rural Norfolk look to have been stopped in their tracks - after council bosses said such a development would be "inappropriate".

Campaigners who battled to block farmland near North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, between Dereham and Fakenham, from being earmarked for up to 5,000 homes have hailed the decision.

The land had been speculatively put forward by Bristol-based planning consultant Black Box Planning as part of Breckland Council's process to develop a new local plan - a blueprint for where new housing could be permitted.

Dereham Times: The Mid-Norfolk RailwayThe Mid-Norfolk Railway (Image: Archant)

It was dubbed a 'railway town' because it would be close to the route of the heritage Mid Norfolk Railway.

But, during consultation over the local plan, more than 2,000 objections were lodged to the suggestion, including from 35 town and parish councils.

And the council has said it will not consider earmarking that location for housing, because it is "inappropriate".

Dereham Times: The railway town would have been built on land near BintreeThe railway town would have been built on land near Bintree (Image: Denise Bradley)

In documents detailing the local plan update, which helps determine where housing is built in the years ahead, officers state while the level of opposition was "very significant" that should not mean the proposal should be automatically ruled out.

But they said: "However, the council considers that further consideration of this site would be inappropriate".

They said the scale of housing put forward there was not needed to meet the identified housing need of just over 4,000 homes on major sites.

Officers said planning policies had a presumption in favour of brownfield sites, rather than on farmland and that smaller sites were preferable.

Dereham Times: Campaigners against the railway town organised public meetings about the proposalsCampaigners against the railway town organised public meetings about the proposals (Image: John Hoskins)

John Hoskins, coordinator of the Campaign Against New Town group, which had objected to the proposal, said: "We are delighted that Breckland Council have stated that the New Town proposal for Bintree/Billingford/North Elmham would be inappropriate to be included in their Local Plan.

"It's good to know that so much opposition to this site has been listened to and actioned.

"As we have said all along, we are very much in favour of sustainable development in the right places, particularly where it provides affordable housing for local people.

"What a rural community obviously does not want, is to have a giant housing estate , masquerading as a ‘garden village’, dumped on them, particularly in an area which has neither the employment nor the infrastructure to warrant it, and where the environmental damage would be extraordinary."

Dereham Times: Mid Norfolk MP George FreemanMid Norfolk MP George Freeman (Image: Richard Townshend Photography)

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, along with local councillors Bill Borrett and Gordon Bambridge, had been among those unhappy at the possibility of the railway town becoming a reality.

While no plan had been lodged, inclusion in the local plan could have made it easier for subsequent submissions to secure planning permission.


Four scenarios have been mooted in the local plan update for where new developments could be built within Breckland.

They include:

  • Concentrating development in market towns, with 80pc of housing to be allocated to Attleborough, Dereham, Swaffham, Thetford and Watton.
  • The remaining 20pc would be allocated to 'local service centres' - larger villages with access to amenities like GP surgeries - such as Weeting and Great Ellingham.
  • Equal distribution between urban and rural areas. Housing would be split 50/50 between market towns and local service centres.
  • Maximise use of strategic sites on previously developed land at Swanton Morley Barracks and the Abbey estate in Thetford. The remaining housing need would be allocated between market towns (80pc) and local service centres (20pc).

Dereham Times: The Abbey Estate in ThetfordThe Abbey Estate in Thetford (Image: Newsquest)

  • Maximise use of brownfield sites at Swanton Morley Barracks and Abbey estate with the remainder of housing split 50/50 between market towns and local service centres.

Land at Swanton Morley Barracks has been earmarked for up to 2,000 homes while the Abbey revamp could create an additional 460 homes.

Dereham Times: Land at the Swanton Morley Barracks could be turned into a huge housing development of 2,000 homesLand at the Swanton Morley Barracks could be turned into a huge housing development of 2,000 homes (Image: Newsquest)

The public will have the chance to have their say on the plans through an eight-week consultation period which will be held over the Christmas period. 

While most of the 16,500 homes identified in the local plan have already been allocated, sites for 4,467 more need to be found over the next two decades.