Boost for Norfolk eco town project

The Norfolk eco-town project took a giant leap forward last night as councillors agreed to put in a �28.4m bid to the government to help kick start the project.

The Norfolk eco-town project took a giant leap forward last night as councillors agreed to put in a �28.4m bid to the government to help kick start the project.

The 4,150 home 'eco community' at Rackheath could be the country's first eco town, built by Barratt Homes and with the involvement of leading names such as the low carbon innovations centre at the University of East Anglia, Building Partnerships and LSI Architects.

The plan has caused major upset in communities to the north east of Norwich, with people concerned about overdevelopment, transport problems and whether the eco claims will turn out to be genuine.

Last night, an extraordinary meeting of Broadland District Council was called to discuss the multi-million pound bid.

And despite opposition from members of the public at the meeting, councillors voted by 21 to 7 to put in the bid.

People arriving at the council offices in Thorpe St Andrew had been met by protesters holding placards, which said 'Stop Norwich Urbanisation - Consultation means listening not just telling'.

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Steven Heard, chairman of Stop Norwich Urbanisation (Snub), spoke at the meeting, and said: “The overwhelming response from local residents has been the confirmation that they do not want to see large-scale developments in this area.

“We all recognise the need for new homes as many of us have families growing up in the area. However, the overwhelming desire is to see these new houses dispersed over the existing communities, thus breathing life and bringing new people into villages and settlements.

“Broadland council seems hell-bent on pushing through plans for large scale development, despite what local residents tell us they want. There is a feeling there is a democratic deficiency in Broadland.”

The meeting heard a great amount of detail about the Rackheath plans, including the suggestion that a 200-home 'exemplar' could be built on 17 acres of the site as a first phase to show how the larger town would work.

Building on this initial phase could start as soon as next year, the meeting was told.

If the �28.4m is successful, it would be used to pay for:

�5m for the exemplar phase

�1.92m for a sustainable water strategy study

�4.84m to 'retrofit' existing Rackheath homes and businesses to improve their energy efficiency

�1.25m for biodiversity and green infrastructure

�5.5m for bus services to employment centres

�2.5m for walking and cycling links to Norwich and Wroxham

During the meeting, Andrew Proctor, deputy leader of the council and portfolio holder for planning policy and conservation, said they were not discussing the scheme, but just a bidding document to central government for a share of the millions up for grabs.

In moving the motion, he said: “We are committed to no growth without the underlying infrastructure.”

However, James Joyce, Liberal Democrat group leader on the council, said that despite initially being in favour of the plans, he was now against them.

Liberal Democrat councillor Ben McGilvray, who represents the Wroxham ward, said: “The residents don't feel they have been listened to and the people who are supposedly in favour of it, seem to have vanished into thin air.

“These extra houses will put the existing infrastructure under strain and damage the quality of life of people in the area. You could say that the eco town plan is a bribe from government, giving us cash in return for building houses.”

Fellow Lib Dem councillor Stuart Beadle called for the plans to be voted against “lock, stock and barrel”.

However, Christopher Green, Conservative councillor for Wroxham, John Fisher, portfolio holder for environmental policy development, and fellow Conservative councillor Kim Davis-Claydon all supported the plans before the vote was taken.

Afterwards, Snub member Stewart Lindsay said the metering had witnessed “the death of democracy”.

Meanwhile, Mr McGilvray said that although they had lost the battle, the war was not over.

Broadland District Council, along with its partners in the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP), has been promoting the area to the north east of Norwich for eco-town status because it considers this provides the best location for new growth in the district.

The East of England Plan requires the Greater Norwich area to plan for a minimum of 37,500 new homes by 2021. Officials say that Broadland's share is approximately 12,000 homes.

The eco-town would see improved and more visible public transport, the delivery of a package of low energy, low carbon and water conservation retro-fit measures, a carbon emissions pledge and monitoring system to track and monitor community commitments and the production of community handbooks.

Last night's meeting also looked at the eco-town's need for new schools, doctors surgeries, dentists, police units, libraries, sports centres and parks, when they would be built and how big they would need to be.