Dozens pack into opening session of Heacham planning inquiry

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A public inquiry into a controversial housing proposal for Heacham has opened this morning.

Around 60 members of the public crammed into the hearing at the Lynnsport leisure centre, with many travelling on a specially arranged bus to be present.

The inquiry, which is expected to last for five days, is to determine whether outline planning permission should be granted for a development to the west of the A149, with access from School Road.

Developers Townsfolk and the Broadland Housing Association want to build 70 new homes, 60 sheltered housing units and a 60-bed care home on the site.

The inquiry is seen as the first key test of West Norfolk Council’s recent claim to have an adequate five year supply of available housing land.

The authority was deemed not to have a sufficient supply when a planning inspector overturned its rejection of a proposed development of the old Fosters sports ground site in Clenchwarton in January last year.

But, in his opening statement this morning, James Perera QC, for the council, said significant work had been done to address the issue since then.

He insisted: “The council has a five year supply of deliverable sites.

“It’s now nearly 18 months since that inquiry was heard and it’s no surprise that circumstances have changed.”

However, Gregory Jones QC, for the appellants, said assessments carried out on behalf of their clients suggested the council had, at best, 4.2 years worth of available land.

He said the Clenchwarton case was “highly relevant” to this inquiry and claimed an adequate land supply could not be proven.

He added: “The council has grossly over-estimated its ability to deliver a five year housing supply.”

Ahead of the opening statements, planning inspector David Spencer, who will determine whether the application should be allowed to proceed or not, highlighted the perceived need for the development, its impact on the area, road safety and ecology concerns as other key issues to be considered during the hearing.

He said he would make a private site visit during school hours to assess traffic issues, as well as an accompanied visit when the parties involved in the case will be present.

Mr Jones argued there was a “chronic” need for the type of care facilities that would be provided by the case.

He also claimed there would be minimal impact on the adjacent area of outstanding natural beauty.

But the council argued there would be “significant” visual and landscape harm if the project was pursued.

It also claimed there was a “real risk” the scheme would not be delivered in its current form because of the amount of available housing for rent in the area.

The inquiry continues.