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Land at Thetford Road Watton - Planning Application Appeal APP/F2605/W/15/3137812

by Frank Brown & Brian Brooker - 17:22 on 09 March 2016

RE: Land at Thetford Road Watton - Planning Application Appeal APP/F2605/W/15/3137812

This one development is the size of Caston and if approved it will result in a dramatic increase in traffic travelling through Caston on its way to Attleborough, Rocklands and Great Ellingham as well as the A11 for onward travel to Norwich.

A brief résumé of attendance at the morning session of this planning appeal held at the Queen’s Hall, Watton on 8 March:

Order of events:

First 10 to 15 minutes were “consumed” deciding if the appeal should proceed as it was not easy to hear the chairman and participants. After finding a microphone which provided little or no effect it was decided to proceed.  At this stage there were, as the chairman remarked, around 100 people in the audience.

The next 20 to 30 minutes or so was used reading out statements from a number of interested parties including George Freeman our local MP; Watton Surgery and What Watton Wants lobby group.

Thereafter the meeting went downhill discussing Wayland Wood and in particular the implications of the development upon said Ancient Wood – unfortunately, in our, opinion, the next two hours were spent on discussing the effect upon the wood of dog walkers and dogs and later children, fly tippers and cats all in grinding and largely irrelevant detail all of which was largely anecdotal. Unfortunately the Breckland environmental spokesman (also a Norfolk Wildlife Trust man) whilst no doubt a capable, committed and knowledgeable environmentalist, lacked passion and gravitas to enable the Wayland Wood issue to be nailed down to the advantage of the rejection side – whether we like it or not it is important in such situations to make a key points impact and “outgun” the opposition expert who was also lacking the ability to present a cogent case but the lady concerned did manage to deflect the discussion into irrelevant, un-provable detail – as mentioned earlier, time was spent discussing [a] whether or not cats would impact upon the wildlife because cats mainly attack garden birds and [b] how far cats do or do not stray from their home base……need anymore be said!  The "expert" for the appellant also outrageously asserted that cats were more likely to attack garden birds than woodland birds which they would leave alone!

Whilst it is abundantly clear that the Hopkins and proposed developments will increase the pressure upon the Wood and its habitat due to close proximity we descended into statistics about average dogs and cats per household and which birds cats will or will not attack, whether a certain breed of bird is still breeding in the Wood and on and on it went until at 1230 hours we left for the sake of our sanity. Sitting as we were on the front row we were unable to see those behind but on leaving we noted that the audience had now dwindled to around 30.  Perhaps that says it all.

The Appeal Chairman was an absolutely charming and professional man who started very well but sadly let the morning session descend into…….well you think of a word!

All the statements that were read out, including a very good statement from the local MP and the various public comments were, unsurprisingly very negative and against the development. It is clear that all sections of the local community are opposed to this development yet for in excess of two and one half hours there was almost no discussion relating to the key fundamentals – health care services; education provision; traffic; parking; highways and local services in the Town – the density of the specific proposal [which is evidently within national guidelines] and the quantum of housing under construction and approved for construction within Watton. In this respect we are broadly speaking about 700 houses in construction or approved and some 300 further properties somewhere in the planning application process.

The village of Thompson sent a letter of objection. The Caston letter of objection was noted as having been received but had not yet been read by the Appeal Inspector but we understand the letter along with all additional material presented will be read by him as he formulates his appeal decision. Whilst the key pillars of sustainability – economic; social and environmental can halt this proposal it is our opinion that the biggest risk for trumping sustainability is the lack of a Breckland five year housing supply plan approved by the relevant government department and adopted by the Council – this lack of a plan risks falling foul of the presumption to build policy.

Comment from Alistair Skipper at 09:10 on 10 March 2016.
I am extremely disapointed by the description of this appeal hearing. Although the inspector might have been an, "absolutely charming and professional man," as local residents and tax payers, I would have expected much more professionalism. These inspectors are presumeally carrying out appeals on a regular basis and should consequently be able to chair a meeting satisfactorally. I would not have expected him to read out letters, which I would assume are in the public domain and if not?

I think that a copy of this report should be sent to George Freeman with a request for him to investigate.

Due to the poor management of the meeting, we still do not know if a decision has been made, and if not when will it. We also have no information about the decision process or what arguements were used to influence the decision outcome.

According to the Watton News, there is another appeal on the 7th April regarding an appeal for 73 homes on the Saham Road. The Parish Council should also oppose this application as indirectly this will affect all the residents of Caston.

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