Photographs of Thorpe woodlands, their varied habitats, plantlife and wildlife all taken by friends and supporters. most taken between 2010 and 2013

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Letter writing works!

An important success has just been achieved in defeating attempts by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) to push through their plans for a huge 'Growth Triangle' around north-east Norwich, the area of which includes the Thorpe woodlands. The GNDP recently 'consulted' the public on changes they wanted to make to the 'Old Catton, Sprowston, Rackheath & Thorpe St Andrew Growth Triangle'.

Firstly, they wanted to change the status of the development area from a broad location for development into a Strategic Allocation. This would have fixed the boundaries of the growth triangle on an Ordnance Survey map. By fixing the boundaries, land that would normally have been safeguarded from development, such as woodlands, would have been up for grabs if insufficient land of lesser conservation importance were found to be available to meet the 10,000 houses target for the triangle.

Secondly, Broadland District Council (BDC) wanted to prepare for development by means of a Supplementary Planning Document rather than an Area Action Plan. What does all this planning jargon mean? Well, development under a Supplementary Planning Document does not require any public consultation, whereas under an Area Action Plan, it does. In other words, this artful use of the planning system would have bypassed the democratic process, meaning that the whole 'growth traingle' would have been immune from any public say all the way through to 2026 and beyond. It would have been entirely up to BDC to decide what could be built and where, throughout the entire area, for at least the next 16 years.

However, due to the efforts of a few local campaigners, the meaning of the otherwise incomprehensible consultation document was unravelled and broadcast to members of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and other local campaign groups. As a result, 189 written objections were submitted, and their weight of numbers and the soundness of their arguments had to be acknowledged. The GNDP has announced (in terms that avoid any reference to the influence objectors had, or the fact that its proposed changes were completely unjustifiable) that it has decided to scrap the changes and leave the previous 'Growth Triangle' policy as it was.

The significance of the area no longer being changed to a 'Strategic Allocation' is great: it means that Broadland District Council will now have to hold a public examination of the growth triangle concept and - if the growth triangle goes ahead at all - consult on what kinds of development will be considered acceptable, and on what types of land.

If the 'Strategic Allocation' wording had remained, it would soon have become obvious that there was no way of meeting the 10,000 new houses target without sacrificing large areas of land within the 'triangle' boundaries that would normally be safeguarded from development. Thorpe's woodlands would have been under considerably greater threat if this policy hadn't been defeated.

This victory for reason and commonsense, pleasing though it is, does not mean that the Thorpe woodlands scheme is dead: it merely means that it should become even more difficult for the landowners to convince BDC that permission should be given to build on them. We need to maintain our efforts against the landowners' vile scheme - but we can take heart that, given enough effort, reason and commonsense can prevail. Writing letters to planning authorities, politicians etc can seem futile, but this small victory proves such pessimism to be misplaced. People power CAN work, and letter-writing DOES make a difference, as long as the letters are reasonable and enough people write them, at the right time. We need to remember this when, or if, the landowners ever submit a planning application for the woods.

We must not merely hope that BDC's updated policies will include very strong presumptions against any loss of woodland - strengthened even further where woodlands are County Wildlife Sites, Areas of Core Biodiversity or Areas of High Landscape Value (as are the Thorpe woodlands) - we must do whatever we can to ensure this happens, by writing more letter & emails to BDC members and senior planners over the next couple of months.

1 comment:

  1. A great collaboration between all local campaign groups in the area. 189 letters of objection is a tremendous amount and a number they just couldn't ignore. However, it is important to keep vigilant as the Joint Core Strategy hearing is looming and the sheer volume of new papers appearing at the 11th hour on the GNDP website will take some wading through!