River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Pump Soapbox

September 2002

Planners and Planning

I suppose it was always obvious that East Anglia was in for a period of fairly rapid development. The overcrowding to the south of London, right down as far as Sussex and Hampshire, meant that developers would be looking to the north. Essex, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire were themselves becoming fairly industrialised and built up, so the developments spread into Cambridgeshire and now it is the turn of Suffolk and Norfolk, a trend accelerated by the developing links between East Anglia and continental Europe combined with the expansion of Stansted airport and the hi-tech industry around Cambridge. Cambridge itself became a development hot-spot some time ago with house prices rocketing, and the wave of building has spread out to engulf Ely, now it has reached Downham Market..

The rate of house building around Ely is staggering whilst in and around Downham there are hundreds of new homes and hundreds more planned. Even so, according to the Government, we are not building enough houses to meet the demand. Builders and developers will tell you that the reason that not enough houses are being built is a shortage of building sites. Now why should that be? Surely to goodness there is enough available land in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Emotive arguments about 'concreting over the countryside' are really not valid. We could treble the number of houses in Norfolk and still leave more than 95% of the land unsullied with buildings. The planners and planning authorities everywhere are keeping a stranglehold on the land, presumably for purely parochial reasons, so that there is a shortage of housing almost everywhere to the east of Bristol and to the south of The Wash. The consequence is this man-made and completely unnecessary spiralling cost of houses and of building land.

Those of us already established here with their own homes might view it all with mixed feelings. The increase in value of our property is to be welcomed, although its benefits can be exaggerated, after all a house is a house. For those who are not 'on the ladder' it is an appalling situation. For most people the development of the area offers the promise of increasing prosperity but on the down side there are the problems of increasing traffic on what were our quiet roads and, worst of all, the increasing pressures on other aspects of the local infrastructure. The situation with regard to schools and GP surgeries is already in a critical state. I understand that, before his forced departure, Stephen Byers called for a halt to the further proposed developments in Downham pending an inquiry. Apparently this was because of his concern over its effects on the infrastructure, a concern that was fostered, at least in part, by Gilian Shephard,

Surely, if the Government is calling for more house building, there is a responsibility on them to liaise with local government to ensure that road and transport improvements and the provision of schools, hospitals, GP surgeries, ambulances etc, do at least keep pace with the building programme, although preferably they should keep ahead of it. And there is a responsibility on local government to ensure that this happens. At most local governments seem to be quite happy to permit house building regardless of its effect on local services. Even its effect on car parking, a matter over which they do have some control, is often ignored. There has been much talk about 'joined up government'. Well where is it?

Other aspects of local planning have also given me cause for concern lately:

Surely everybody has seen the artist's sketches of the proposed new developments for the shopping area of King's Lynn. Does anyone like them? King's Lynn has a long history and some fine old buildings. The existing shop buildings in Conduit St and Broad St are totally out of character, built presumably in or around the 1960's, they look more as though they belong in Harlow New Town and most will be pleased to see them replaced, but to replace them with current fashionable/ contemporary architecture, more in keeping with recent developments in Milton Keynes, is to make the same mistake again. They are also proposing to narrow down Conduit Street, which is a great shame. The open space there is one of the better features of the Vancouver Centre. Furthermore Conduit Street does suffer with some fairly strong winds, to narrow it down will only make matters worse.

I would suggest that what we need in Lynn is a modern enclosed shopping mall. In this day and age, people should not be exposed to the elements as they move from one retail outlet to another. The shoppers would much prefer to be undercover and the retailers would benefit from the fact that their customers did not scurry off home to escape the cold and rain. The outward appearance of the mall should be in an architectural style that blends with the older buildings of the town and complements them rather than clashes with them. If we could throw in a nice open air piazza with a few trees and those lovely wisteria covered mock masts from Conduit Street, where people could enjoy a coffee and the view on those occasions when the weather permitted, it would be ideal. Perhaps those of you that agree will join me in protesting about the current proposals.

Yet another planning matter that I have in mind relates to Hunstanton. Have you been there since the fire? June and I were much impressed with the improvement in the view and the appearance of the Green as a consequence of the demolition of the so-called pier. What a wonderful opportunity to remove an eyesore! Tragically, as I understand it, the plan is to rebuild a similar arcade/entertainment venue in its place. Even worse, there is a proposal to encroach more on to the Green itself. Hunstanton may need such an entertainment venue but surely it does not have to be there? It will be a sad day indeed if the planners fail to take this opportunity to enhance the centre of the town.

Ron Watts

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