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

Charrette or Charade – Can we save Thorpe’s Woodland?

(Read on for article 'Charretts or Charade-Can we save Thorpe Woodlands')
On the 13th July the Broadland Land Group completed their Charrette process in which they put forward proposals for the construction of housing across the vast majority of Racecourse Plantation together with very substantial areas of Belmore & Brown's Plantations'.

Those of you who were at the first meeting, and the Town Council meeting that followed it will recall the strength of feeling put forward by the overwhelming majority of people who attended, this resulted in Thorpe Town council unanimously voting against the developers proposals.

Five days later, one week ago today, the final presentation was given. Andres Duany spoke for nearly one and a half hours without taking questions. In addition to local residents the audience included several developers who support the Group’s plans and members of Andres Duany’s team. Some of the audience were grateful for the presentation, and even voiced their appreciation for being consulted on the proposals.

However, in spite of Charrette, the fact remains that the Broadland Land Group’s proposals will lead to the destruction of a beautiful woodland habitat that many of us have grown to value, if not love. A place that enriches our homes and community and provides our wildlife with a rare refuge from the concrete sprawl that increasingly threatens it.

Thorpe St Andrews is not the first community to experience a Charrette lead by Andres Duany and his team from DPZ.

Duany himself spoke about the town of Tornagrain near Inverness , he was keen to emphasis the public consultation and support he had received in respect of this proposed development which would accommodate over 10,000 people. However, this isn’t the entire picture. For example the Inverness Courier on the 6th September 2006 ran the headline “Hostility to Plan for New Town” the article continues
“Opposition to plans for a new community on the eastern outskirts of Inverness is growing as a unique consultation scheme gets under way.

Moray Estates, which is behind the proposals for thousands of new homes on a greenfield site at Tornagrain, is being accused of presenting the project as "a done deal" even though a planning application has not yet been submitted”.

The story was even covered on Channel 4 News who ran with a report on the 6th September 2006 that was entitled “ Truman Show Town Opposed in Scotland ” and reported that “Opposition is mounting over plans to build a new town in northern Scotland , designed by a Hollywood architect”.

Following Tornagrain, which has yet to go ahead, the town of Lochgelly in Scotland went through the very same process earlier this year, here are a few headlines from their community website :

8th February 2010 - Lochgelly Charrette
• 1st March 2010 - Lochgelly Charrette – An opportunity to have your say?
• 8th March 2010 - Lochgelly Charrette – Details in the Small Print
• 29th April 2010 - Failure of Lochgelly Charrette Recognised

In their final article on the Charrette, and the proposals that would result in 1,750 houses being built on the countryside next to their town, the local people of Lochgelly ask “We have one question for Fife Council with regards to the Lochgelly Charrette; If the Lochgelly Charrette was considered successful, why is the majority of the Lochgelly community referring to the charrette as the Lochgelly Charade?".

Throughout the Charrette, Duany and his team said they were interested in the views of the people who live in Thorpe, and those who neighbour the woods. However earlier this year, in front of an audience of journalists at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge Massachusetts, Duany put forward the case that the planning process needed to be reformed as it has been usurped by the public, and especially by those people who neighbour the site of the proposed development. He argued consultation should not be with the public in general and especially the locals, instead it should consist of a controlled consultation with a selected group of local citizens, he stated that if this isn’t done the process is taken over by "a bunch of little mobs, invited in by idiot public planners."

Duany has been criticised by members of his own profession.

The April edition of the Architects Journal published an article entitled “Scottish architects fry new urbanist Duany” it stated that “American new urbanist Andres Duany has sparked protests from Scottish architects after alleging the country had not built any housing to be proud of since 1945”.

In the article Duany’s position is criticised by fellow architects as being “ill informed”, Peter Wilson, director of Edinburgh Napier University’s Wood Studio, said Duany’s ‘twee way of viewing Scotland’ was to blame. ‘He does all these charrettes at a great expense and then expects everything to look like small Scottish town Dunkeld’ In Thorpe’s case for Dunkeld read Burnham Market.

The above shows that the Charrette process is being cynically used by developers as a means to convince local people that opposing a development would be futile, that the proposal is a ‘done deal’ and that if the local people don’t work with the developer they may end up with something far worse.

However this is a Charade. The truth is that in all these cases, and especially in the case of Thorpe St Andrew, the developers, Broadland Land Group, have NO permission to build on these woods. That it is not a done deal, in fact Broadland District Council have identified these woods as a County Wildlife Site and as a result Broadland’s Local Plan states that any “Development that would significantly affect the wildlife interest of local nature conservation importance, including County Wildlife Sites and Ancient Woodlands identified by English Nature, or the value of regionally important Geological/geomorphical sites, will not be permitted”.

In addition the Greater Norwich Development Partnership Green Infrastructure Strategy identifies these two plantations as core areas for biodiversity.

Our local councillors have opposed these plans and our local MP Chloe Smith has written to Broadland District Council’s planning department to draw their attention to the strong local opposition to these proposals.

The destruction of these woods is not a done deal, the local people of Thorpe, who Andres Duany may view as a ‘little mob’, can stop this development and save the woods and its rich wildlife for today and for future generations.

If you haven’t already done so please write to your local councillors, their details can be accessed via the links below, and our local MP. Please tell everybody you know about the threat to our woods and how they can be saved.

Broadland District Council

Thorpe St Andrew North West

John Fisher

Ian Mackie

Nigel Shaw

Thorpe St Andrew South East

Kim Davis-Claydon

Suzanne Hayes

Graham Walker

MP Chloe Smith

Lochgelly Community Website

Channel 4 News