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Residents’ anger as planning inspector gives green light for development in Watton

PUBLISHED: 18:30 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:03 28 August 2017

Members of the What Watton Wants pressure group before the planning inquiry into a bid to build 177 homes in Watton. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

Members of the What Watton Wants pressure group before the planning inquiry into a bid to build 177 homes in Watton. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

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A resident’s group, councillors and a wildlife organisation have expressed their anger after a planning inspector overturned a council’s decision to reject a housing development.

Land south of Mallard Road, Watton, where the proposed development will be built. Picture: Matthew UsherLand south of Mallard Road, Watton, where the proposed development will be built. Picture: Matthew Usher

An application to build 177 flats and houses on land south of Mallard Road, Watton, was opposed by many residents and was rejected by Breckland Council’s planning committee in April 2016.

This was on the grounds of the development’s proximity to a Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA) and its incursion into a stone curlew buffer site.

Tesni Properties launched an appeal and a planning inquiry was held in June. In a recently published report outline planning permission was allowed.

District and town councillor Keith Gilbert said he was “yet to find anybody in this town in favour of the application”.

A resident expresses her view on the proposed development for 177 homes in Watton. Picture: Ian BurtA resident expresses her view on the proposed development for 177 homes in Watton. Picture: Ian Burt

He said: “I am very disappointed. It is the most disgraceful application I have seen in my 30 years as a councillor.”

At the inquiry John Barrett, representing Tesni, said the development would create 180 full-time jobs over a five-year construction period.

He said the development would bring “significant benefits” with between 32 to 40pc of the housing being affordable.

Mr Gilbert said he was not against development but the flats and houses were not in keeping with surrounding residential areas.

Watton Town and Breckland district councillor Keith Gilbert. Picture: Ian BurtWatton Town and Breckland district councillor Keith Gilbert. Picture: Ian Burt

He added: “I would not object to a development with a continuation of bungalows and outside of the stone curlew buffer zone.”

In the report the inspector Phillip Ware noted the SPA is “about 1,300 metres away to the southwest” of the proposed development site.

And he did not consider there would be any “reduction in the breeding population” of the curlews. Mr Ware also said the design “reflects the character of the surrounding area”.

Paul Adcock, chairman of What Watton Wants residents group, said people were angry and disappointed.

A stone curlew. Photo: Ben Andrew/RSPBimages.comA stone curlew. Photo: Ben Andrew/RSPBimages.com

He said: “The emails and conversation so far is that people are pretty gutted by the decision.

“The three storey houses in an area of bungalows is totally out of character.”

Tesni were contacted but were not available for comment.

The RSPB has condemned the decision

The Breckland Special Protection Area (SPA) is home to more than half of the UK population of stone-curlew, a rare and threatened species.

The development falls within the buffer zone which was established in a local planning policy in 2009 to protect nesting stone-curlews from activities that are likely to harm their breeding success.

James Robinson, RSPB director for eastern England, said: “It is extremely disappointing that Breckland Council’s original decision to prevent this harmful development in the Brecks has been overturned by the Planning Inspectorate.

“The reversal of Breckland Council’s decision risks setting a precedent that puts wildlife in the Brecks and elsewhere in serious danger by signalling open season for development that threatens our most precious and highly protected places for nature.”

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