A town facing the challenges created by growing numbers
- Credit: Mike Page
Positioned on the A11 and surrounded by rich, ancient farmland, Attleborough offers its people the win-win of being close to Norwich without compromising rural life.
In our Attleborough survey, completed by more than 200 people living in the town, 45pc said they were either proud or very proud to live in Attleborough, listing friendly neighbours and a strong sense of heritage as the things that made it a unique place to live.
Strong community spirit, an abundance of green space and easy access to both walking and driving routes were the most popular reasons given for loving Attleborough, with special mentions given to Gaymers Meadow and the town cows.
But amid the praise, many said they feared the town's rural atmosphere was being disrupted by development.
Attleborough's desirable location has, in recent decades, inspired an influx of young families to the area. This surge in residential interest, fuelled by the dualling of the A11 in 2014, has not gone unnoticed by developers - and in the past five years several have invested in building new property in the town.
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In March, the largest development proposed so far was recommended for approval, creating two distinct camps of opinion about what it could mean for the town. The new venture would see 4,000 new homes built in the space between Station Road and Buckenham Road and would nearly double the size of Attleborough from a population of around 11,000 to 19,000 people.
The imminent upsizing has prompted existing residents to question whether the town's services and infrastructure will be able to cope with the sudden influx of people.
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Some 43pc of readers said they strongly disagreed the new development was a positive thing for the town, stating strained GP services and increased traffic as their biggest concerns.
Attleborough has two GP surgeries, located on Queens Square and Station Road, with approximately 18,400 patients across the two sites.
Despite being rated good in their last review by the Care Quality Commission, staff said they were struggling to meet demand. One receptionist, who works at Queens Square Surgery, said the phone lines were constantly engaged, echoing a message on the surgery's website asking patients to be patient until additional GP sessions were employed.
Charmain Rankin, 34, lives in Attleborough with her four-year-old son Harry and said her biggest concern was not being able to see a doctor if one of them fell ill.
She said: "The staff at the surgery and pharmacy are helpful but you can tell they are under a ridiculous amount of pressure. It's near impossible to get an appointment and that is a real worry, especially if you're elderly or have young children."
Ms Rankin was born and bought up in Attleborough and returned to the area after giving birth to Harry, making her the third generation in her family to raise children in the town.
The 34-year-old said despite harbouring concerns about NHS services, she felt other facilities such as the parks, good schools and Attleborough children's centre made the area an idyllic spot for children under 10.
In our survey, more than 65pc of respondents said they believed a lack of facilities and opportunities was causing young people to leave the town and suggested building more entertainment-based facilities such as a bowling alleys, cinemas and swimming pools as an antidote.
Despite concerns about extracurricular opportunities, schools in the town were highly praised by readers.
Of the 200 responses to the survey, not a single person said they were concerned about the town's schools and Attleborough Academy was included in many people's top three things about they like about the town.
While nearby schools in Wymondham and Hethersett are facing mounting pressure to find additional pupil places, Attleborough Academy has spaces available for nearly 200 additional students. But with a rapidly expanding population on the horizon, Norfolk County Council's economic and strategy officer warned the academy would need to find an additional 755 spaces to cope with demand, nearly doubling its current size.
The expected cost to pay for the increased education provision could be as much as £20.1m.
Another key concern raised in our survey was how development would impact traffic in the town.
Nearly three quarters of respondents mentioned traffic in their least favourite things about Attleborough, with one adding: "There is too much traffic going through town. The junctions are busy and at school time you might as well avoid the roads all together."
One of the key proposals in the development plan is the construction of a new £18m link road between the A11 London Road and the New Buckenham Road to the south of the town.
The road is due to be built in stages and scheduled to be finished by the time the first 1,200 homes are up, leaving some worried about how existing town centre roads will cope in the interim. But amidst the concern, others are excited about the opportunities the expansion will bring. Keith Martin, inset above left, has been a Breckland district councillor for Attleborough ward for more than 30 years and said he had always envisioned this level of development for the town.
He said: "Often people resist change but you have to look ahead positively."
Is there a drugs problem in Attleborough?
Crime figures collected between February 2016 and 2019 reveal the most common recorded crime category in Attleborough was violence and sexual offences.
But Breckland community engagement officer PC Paula Gilluley, inset, stressed that although the numbers might seem alarming, it was important to note that offences such as non-physical altercations and minor domestic incidents were included in this category.
Among the concerns raised by our survey respondents was the level of drug-related crime in Attleborough.
One reader wrote: "There is a drugs problem in Attleborough and not enough police to deal with it. The lack of things to do for teenagers means they are hanging about on the streets and it makes people feel unsafe."
However, according to PC Paul Gilluley, Attleborough experienced a decrease in drug crime in recent years and remained one of the safest areas in the UK.
She said: "It is likely this is a perceived issue. It is easy for people to see groups of, usually young, people standing in public places and believe there is something concerning going on. Having said that, we urge anyone who has concerns about drug taking to contact us so we are aware of those concerns." Last month Norfolk Constabulary launched a new Neighbourhood Policing Team in Attleborough and surrounding areas in a drive to ramp up visible policing. District Commander Chief Inspector Lynne Cross said: "The team is made up of one sergeant and five police constables and will bring a multi-faceted approach to problem solving any emerging issues in the district and very much complement our community based safer neighbourhood teams."
It is 10am on a Monday morning and Connaughts Coffee House has already sold out of scones.
This, shop manager Emma Williams tells me, is a common occurrence, thanks to one regular customer who rates the home baked treats so highly she often buys the lot.
Attleborough's independent café scene is thriving, thanks in no small part to local customers.
Disability support groups, parent and baby clubs and isolated individuals are just a few examples of the people keeping the sector afloat.
Kerrie Carter took over The Coffee Lounge on Queen's Square five years ago and said regular customers account for 90pc of their revenue.
"We're incredibly close to our regulars and even meet up outside work for drinks and meals," said Ms Carter. "The new houses have been a great thing for us because it's brought in new customers who turn into regulars. In a town like this the chat is as important as the coffee."
Attleborough through the years
Kitt Gapp was only six years old when she moved to Attleborough with her family, but said she still remembers her first glimpse of the awning-fronted shops on Queens Square.
The 95-year-old's childhood memories revolve around scrumping apples from the old Gaymers factory on Station Road and being given clips around the ear for causing mischief at the local green grocers.
She said: "I had my fun as a young girl but there was a lot of snobbery back then. People looked down on you for being working class."
During the Second World War, Mrs Gapp said the sleepy market town was suddenly over-run with American airmen, changing its dynamics forever.
"I was married," she added, "so that was disappointing, but it shook things up a bit round here."
Mrs Gapp's granddaughter, Charmaine Rankin, was raised in Attleborough and lives in the town with her four-year-old son Harry.
She said: "A lot of people stay here because it's where their family is and that's important. People like to moan a lot about how the town has changed but it's because we love the place and are willing to fight for it."
The location of Banham Poultry's Station Road processing plant has been a point of contention since it moved from its original site at Bunn's Bank, following a fire in 1998.
In our reader survey, only 36pc of respondents said they thought the Banham Poultry factory was a good thing for the town. Foul odours emanating from the plant have dominated discussion among people living nearby, attracting the attention of county councillor Rhodri Oliver, who vowed in February to galvanise action from the Environment Agency and Banham Poultry management.
There have been other issues too - a fire in March left an employee with severe burns and two workers for a pest control sub-contractor died at the site last October.
But despite the controversy, for many in the town the presence of the multimillion-pound firm is a source of pride.
Before its buy out by Midlands-based company Chesterfield Poultry last year, Banham Poultry employed around 900 people across the company.
Keith George, 47, said: "Banham is one of the few large employers in this area and the jobs it provides are important for local people. It's always been in the town and people should give it more credit for what it contributes to the local economy."
Banham Poultry was invited to comment but said nobody was available to speak.