Design guru points to Acle plans for housing future

SLAMMING top-down targets, the president of the Norfolk Association of Architects has pointed to possible Acle plans as an example of how to deal with the demand in housing.

As the man who designed Norwich’s Castle Mall, the city’s revamped market and countless homes around the county, Michael Innes knows a thing or two about planning.

And Mr Innes is in no doubt that people in the county are being sold short by the obsession with hitting housing targets rather than responding to what is needed in Norfolk- pointing to Acle as an exmaple of how to do things.

Branding the joint core strategy –the blueprint which has been drawn up by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership to outline where homes and jobs should be created between now and 2026 – as illogical, Mr Innes said a fresh approach is needed to prevent mistakes and to ensure the public gets a proper say on where homes are built.

He said: “The joint core strategy starts from the wrong point, as it is built on the ‘spread it about’ policies that have served our region so badly in the past.

“Housing, under the direction of modern planning has been pushed through a system with little regard for the ever increasing traffic and congestion it produces as a result of policies producing sprawl.

“This approach has primarily benefited land speculators and builders, not the home owners and our communities.”

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The 79-year-old said rather than spread a top-down government figure of 33,000 homes around the Greater Norwich area, it would make far more sense to focus major development in a small number of locations, where infrastructure, jobs and amenities kept pace with longer term building of homes.

That was preferable to tacking development onto “dreary, inaccessible prairies on the fringes of our towns,” said Mr Innes, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew.

And he gave Acle as an example where you could follow in the footsteps of the likes of Letchworth Garden City, by encouraging development and improving life for the people who already live there. Mr Innes acknowledged Acle was just an example, but he hoped it would generate debate for how to better plan and improve transport.

He said: “I chose Acle as an example and that is what it is. It is not a proposal for Acle as such, but I feel it would make Acle a better place to put growth.

“It is already bypassed and has good rail links to Norwich and to Great Yarmouth. You could have a light railway line running from Norwich to Yarmouth, which would connect from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital all the way to Yarmouth.”

He said in other European cities, development took place only after public transport was put in place – and Norfolk should follow suit.

Mr Innes outlined plans to create a lake at Acle, following the example at Whitlingham in Norwich. He said that would add value to homes in the Acle and act as a magnet for future growth.

And he said there was a need to move away from large national building companies to local builders, with local knowledge of local need.

He added developers who “carpet bag” by taking windfall taxes but do not feed them into the local community need to be penalised and suggested builders which invest in the community should instead be rewarded, perhaps through tax exemptions.

A spokesman for the GNDP said: “The JCS has resulted from the best efforts of local councils in the Greater Norwich area to plan for the future economic and housing needs of local people.

“People have been consulted on various options at every stage and their views have helped shape the strategy that is currently being examined in public by the planning inspector.

“It is he who will decide whether the JCS is a sound strategy for the future.”