Council approves hundreds of new homes in South Wootton
Plans for up to 575 new homes in South Wootton have been approved today, despite deep unease about the impact of government policies on local decisions.
Opponents pleaded with members of West Norfolk Council’s planning committee to do what they felt was best for the area, rather than bowing to national policies.
But senior officials warned the authority risks losing its planning powers if too many of its decisions are overturned on appeal.
Outline proposals allow for up to 450 homes on land off Edward Benefer Way, to the north-west of the village’s junior school, plus community and business facilities and open space.
A separate application for up to 125 more homes on land off Nursery Lane was also approved.
The decisions require both applicants to complete legal agreements on affordable housing and other issues by the spring.
Both sites form part of a wider development land allocation which was earmarked for at least 300 homes during the process through which future housing development in the borough was envisaged.
But committee members who took part in that process said they felt that work had been undermined by subsequent proposals.
One of them, Chris Crofts, said: “It’s all going out the window. It makes you wonder what you’re doing it for.”
Both local MP Sir Henry Bellingham and borough mayor Nick Daubney were among those who spoke against the proposals.
Sir Henry said he had chosen to address a planning meeting for the first time since he was originally elected 35 years ago after changing his mind about the proposals.
He argued that the community of South Wootton would accept some development of the land but the number of homes proposed was too high.
He also claimed the government was looking to review planning rules in a way which may ease the burden on councils such as West Norfolk.
Meanwhile, Mr Daubney told the committee they had to act as “public protectors” instead of simply accepting government rules
He said: “Enough is enough. We are borough councillors, elected and trusted by our residents to make decisions in the best interests of West Norfolk.”
But officials told the committee the council had already lost two planning appeals on similar issues to the current applications.
Executive director Geoff Hall said the council could face losing its power to make planning decision, and around £1 million a year in fees, if enough of its decisions were overturned.
It was later conceded that no authority has yet faced such a sanction.
But he added: “We have made these arguments before. If anything, the framework has got tougher. Unless we can bring forward evidence of significant harm, we will lose on appeal. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.”