In a letter to the Lynn News on November 13, David Newman suggested that the reason for my objection to a new housing estate, comprising 166 dwellings on land south of Hunstanton, was because it would spoil my view over open countryside.
In fact, the view from my house, situated in Hunstanton Road, Heacham, is over a golf course, with distant sea views. On a good day I can even see as far as the Lincolnshire coast, with Boston Stump clearly visible on the horizon.
However, I am grateful to Mr Newman for pointing out that, because it straddles the parish boundary and is on a hillside, the Hopkins Homes site is actually more noticeable from Heacham than it is from Hunstanton. This calls into question the requirement by the government for district councils to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on drawing up Local Plans.
According to the Local Plan for West Norfolk, approved by the government in 1998, all the farmland between the Manorfields Estate in Hunstanton and Manor Farm in Heacham was classified as an ‘Area of Important Landscape Quality’ (AILQ). For this reason, shortly after the turn of the century, west Norfolk council refused permission for Searles Leisure Resort to create a nine-hole golf course, a driving range and a club house within this AILQ. It would have been reasonable to expect a government planning inspector to uphold this decision, but he did not and an appeal was successful.
Shortly afterwards an application was submitted for a second nine-hole golf course together with 155 timber-clad holiday lodges. This time, instead of refusing permission, the council simply asked the government if it could depart from the Local Plan by granting permission. The government responded by informing the council it could please itself, thereby making a mockery of the time and money spent on devising Local Plans. By the time a third application was submitted for another nine-hole golf course, soon to become 18 holes, and the conversion of the manor farmhouse into Heacham Manor hotel, the council had ditched the AILQ designation intended to protect the character and appearance of open countryside separating Heacham from Hunstanton. Once again the government told the council it could completely ignore its Local Plan.
With central government and west Norfolk council adopting this laissez faire approach to the planning process, it was only to be expected that permission would ultimately be obtained for a housing estate to complete the transformation from an Area of Important Landscape Quality into a suburban jungle.
There you have it. The motto for developers appears to be: “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t worry, you soon will!”
In the Viewpoint columns last Tuesday, Edward Wheatley summed up the situation very succinctly, and concluded his letter by describing the Hopkins Homes decision as: “just another example of how impotent we citizens are even at the most basic level.”
When I meet Henry Bellingham MP on his next visit to Hunstanton, I will ask him if he feels equally impotent, even though he is a member of the party elected to govern this country for the next four and a half years..