Contentious West Winch land can be developed, says inspector

GV of the Gravel Hill site in West Winch (site is open field on the corner of Hall Lane and Gravel Hill) ANL-151009-132220009
GV of the Gravel Hill site in West Winch (site is open field on the corner of Hall Lane and Gravel Hill) ANL-151009-132220009

A government inspector has supported plans to include a controversial village site in future development plans for West Norfolk, despite widespread local opposition.

A community representative in West Winch have called the process “undemocratic”, claiming they were not given adequate opportunities to express their views on the land off Gravel Hill Lane.

But the inspector insisted there was no reason not to block development of the land.

The status of the land has been one of the more controversial parts of West Norfolk Council’s blueprint for development in the borough over the next decade.

The site was removed from the authority’s list of development allocations in 2013, following a campaign by residents and local representatives.

They say that decision should still stand, because of what they say are the high flood and transport risks associated with it.

But the land was reinstated by officials almost a year ago after its owners, Zurich Assurance, claimed that excluding it threatened the viability of wider development proposals of up to 1,600 homes plus a new link road in the area.

In his report, which will be considered by the borough council’s ruling cabinet next Wednesday, planning inspector David Hogger said he had taken objectors’ views into account when considering the issue.

But he added: “Issues such as highway safety and the outlook from existing dwellings can be appropriately considered at the planning application stage.

“There is no evidence of sufficient weight that would enable me to conclude that the council’s revised approach is not sound.”

But the village’s county councillor, Alexandra Kemp, said the issue should have been determined at a full public hearing where residents were able to express their opposition to the proposal.

She claimed that, although residents were urged to make written representations to the inspector during a public meeting in May, they were not allowed to address him during a series of examination hearings held last autumn, while developers were.

She said: “Not granting a hearing is undemocratic. This kind of relentless development is deeply unpopular. The borough has not listened to the people of West Winch.”

But, speaking during a council committee meeting on Tuesday evening, Alan Gomm, the council’s LDF manager, denied any suggestion communities had been denied the chance to participate.

He said: “People have had a good opportunity to convince the inspector to do something.”