Fears of 'wild west' developments prompt council rethink

Breckland District Council and housing

Councillor Roger Atterwill raised concerns that Breckland would be more vulnerable to developers if its local plan was not completely up to date. - Credit: Ian Burt/Chris Bishop

Fears of housing developments springing up in an uncontrolled “wild west” fashion across Breckland has helped prompt its council cabinet to reconsider its timetable to review the district’s local plan.

A local plan is a policy document which provides a framework for the scale and location of developments in an area. 

At a September meeting, Breckland’s Conservative cabinet voted to proceed with a timetable for reviewing its local plan, such that there would potentially be a gap between 2024 and 2027 in which the plan would be out of date. 

Independent councillor Roger Atterwill warned this could leave Breckland vulnerable to developers, who would be more easily able to appeal rejections from the council’s planning committee. 

Breckland councillor and Swanton Morley Parish Council chairman, Roger Atterwill, is concerned about

Independent councillor Roger Atterwill "called in" the discussion about the local plan review timetable, so that it could discussed by the council's overview & scrutiny commission - Credit: Archant

At a Thursday meeting of Breckland’s overview & scrutiny commission, several visiting parish councillors told of residents’ horror at the prospect of an outdated local plan. 

Yaxham Parish Council vice-chair Richard Whadcoat said residents were “incensed, to put it mildly, that they will no longer, it appears, have protection from inappropriate developments.

“They are astounded and feel totally let down.”

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Referring to this week’s budget announcements from chancellor Rishi Sunak, Yaxham councillor Maggie Oechsle said: “If I was a land agent, I’d be ordering crates of Rishi’s new champagne.

“They will see it coming, they will plan and they will have their sites up and running, and all funds in place, ready to go, directly [from the moment] the local plan is not in place.”

Likewise, Mattishall parish councillor Graham Clarke said residents were “aghast” and “horrified” at the idea of giving developers “a three-year opportunity, basically, to revert to the wild west”. 

Council officers explained the timetable had been set out in its current form because of concern that new national policies could make any changes made both costly and ineffective. 

The commission voted to refer the matter back to cabinet for reconsideration, though the cabinet is not obligated to change its decision. 

Mr Atterwill said he was “very pleased” with the commission’s decision, and urged the cabinet to “reconsider their approach”.

Tim Birt

Green councillor Timothy Birt - Credit: Breckland Council

Green councillor Timothy Birt said: “I hope it is not too late and that cabinet read the public mood correctly.”

Terry Jermy who is chair of the board at Charles Burrell Centre and a town, district, and county cou

Labour group leader Terry Jermy - Credit: Archant

Terry Jermy, leader of the council’s Labour opposition, said: “This is not a party-political issue – it is crucial that we get this right for all Breckland residents.”

Breckland councillor Alison Webb opens the Yaxham play area with Ian Martin, Chris Couves and Bob Gu

Conservative councillor Ian Martin - Credit: Breckland Council

Conservative councillor Ian Martin, who proposed the motion that returned the decision back to cabinet, said: "We have a duty of care to our communities to seek to reduce the developmental risk in the current timetable as far as practical.

"So it was hugely reassuring that the members of OSC [overview & scrutiny committee] agreed and voted near-unanimously to support the motion."

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