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Concerns voiced over £6m homes loan bid at packed Swaffham public meeting

Residents pack Swaffham's town council chamber for last night's public meeting (4684759)
Residents pack Swaffham's town council chamber for last night's public meeting (4684759)

Dozens of residents attended a public meeting in Swaffham last night to discuss plans which could see the town council seek a £6 million loan to build new homes.

Although the authority backed proposals to explore the idea at a special meeting in August, officials have insisted they will not proceed with it if they don't think it is in the town's interests.

The application, if it is approved, would enable the council to manage a project to build 51 homes on the Days Field site, for which outline planning permission has already been granted.

But several speakers voiced their unease about the idea during a near-three hour session in the town council chamber.

Ex-mayor Paul Ison described the idea as a "great big gamble" and urged the authority to look again at the idea of selling the site.

David Wickerson, a former town councillor, said a final decision on whether to borrow or not should be deferred until after next May's elections.

He said: "It concerns me that the current council could make a decision right at the end of its tenure that a new council would have to carry forward, even though a majority may not agree with it."

He also called for a further public meeting to be arranged before a final decision, currently expected early in the new year, is made.

And another resident even threatened the council with legal action if his home sustained flood damage as a result of any development.

But the current mayor, Colin Houghton, insisted the council had an obligation to explore all available options in order to generate the maximum return on a town asset.

He said there had been "misconceptions" about the project, which he stressed was still in its early stages.

The meeting was told the plan could generate a greater financial return for the town that either selling the land or developing it in a partnership scheme, though both options could still be reviewed.

And Mr Houghton added: "We would be failing in our duty to you as townspeople if we did not look at these options."

Residents also heard the land had been valued at more than £1 million, though purchase offers made to date had been below that figure, while the loan plan could create assets worth around £10 million and generate more money for the town.

Councillor Paul Darby, said he supported the idea as a potential means of generating revenue for the town.

But he added: "If there is one iota of risk in it, I will vote against it. We're not going to make silly decisions."

However, another councillor, Terry Jennison, was among those who spoke against the plan, telling the meeting: "There are many councillors who do not want to do this, myself included.

"The town council is full to there with the amount of work it has to do. We can't take this on."

Councillors are expected to discuss the issue further at a finance meeting on October 29, though a decision on whether to apply to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for permission to borrow will not be made until December at the earliest.

If an application is submitted at that point, the authority expects a decision in January.

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