MP accuses developer of ‘contempt’ over government lobbying in row over controversial 10,000 home town
PUBLISHED: 18:32 24 September 2018 | UPDATED: 07:18 25 September 2018
A Norfolk MP has urged government not to allow developers to dodge local planning rules, as he hit out at a controversial scheme for a new 10,000 home garden town.
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, accused Norwich-based planners Lanpro of showing “seriously ill judged contempt” for the people who would be affected by their vision for a town the size of Thetford in mid Norfolk.
It was revealed just ten days ago that Lanpro had lobbied central government to remove the requirement for approval from the local planning authority in order to receive government funding for a new garden community, after Breckland Council refused to back the scheme.
Lanpro’s managing director Chris Leeming insisted “community” and “infrastructure” were at the heart of the scheme.
It was revealed this month that Lanpro had lobbied central government to remove the requirement for approval from the local planning authority in order to receive government funding for a new garden community, after it emerged that Breckland Council’s planning officers would advise councillors to refuse planning permission.
In a letter to housing minister Kit Malthouse, Mr Freeman asked for the minister’s commitment that “Lanpro’s approach of circumventing the planning process and community consultation will not be allowed.”
He said: “I understand that in light of the recommendation made to Breckland councillors, Lanpro has decided to lobby the ministry directly instead, in the hope of bringing about an amendment to the Garden Communities Prospectus, that would allow their proposals to move forward without the consent of the local planning authority.”
The Conservative MP and former No 10 policy chief added: “Lanpro’s decision to lobby the ministry shows a seriously ill-judged contempt for the communities that would be affected.”
He described the proposals as of “considerable concern” and urged government not to allow themselves to be “pushed around by the big developers”.
Mr Freeman said Lanpro had carried out “very little, if any, consultation with councillors and local communities”.
Mr Freeman also warned that trust in the planning system, and the government’s commitment to localism, is “at an all-time low”, and said there would be “understandable outrage if people saw developers and landowners able to lobby ministers [and] make hundreds of millions of pounds.”
He also informed the minister that he “cannot support the vision put forward” and described the scheme as lacking “any serious plan to manage the major traffic implications and general disruption that a settlement of this size would create in such a rural area”.
Breckland Council leader William Nunn said he was happy to see “our local MP supporting both the council and the community in resisting this development at this time when no consultation and little discussion have taken place”.
He added: “The council’s position is that we would do all we could to protect our community.”
District councillor for Upper Wensum ward, Bill Borrett, said: “I’m very pleased to see that as a result of intervention from local people Mr Freeman has written directly to the minister.”
Mr Borrett added: “I understand Lanpro is meeting with the minister this week, which means this intervention is very timely.
“I think it shows the strength of local opposition has got through to Mr Freeman.
“It does show how strongly people who are going to be affected by this are feeling.
“It’s in the wrong place - I’m not against the idea of new towns provided that they are in areas where there are jobs, transport and infrastructure.”
Mr Leeming said: “The ideas and concepts mentioned in Mr Freeman’s letter are exactly what we are trying to achieve – a well-balanced community in with community and infrastructure at the heart of the proposals.
“In addition, the government prospectus is clear that local authority support is a prerequisite and this has never been challenged at a local level or ministerial level.
“However, it is clear that the timescales required by the Central Government Prospectus are seemingly too short in this instance.
“We fully intend “to sit down properly with local leaders and work out a sensible scheme” as suggested by Mr Freeman in his concluding paragraph.”
The development, earmarked for land between North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, which would be the fourth largest settlement in Norfolk, was first revealed in July to widespread criticism.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing previously told this paper: “We are absolutely clear that proposals must be explicitly supported by the local authority, even where they are submitted by other organisations.
“Local areas should decide how best to engage with current and future residents in developing the proposal.”