Angry Methwold residents ponder legal challenge after homes bid approved

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Residents of a West Norfolk village are considering legal action after a controversial housing scheme was given the go-ahead.

The decision to allow 30 new homes to be built on an area of open land off Crown Street, Methwold has also sparked calls for a review of council planning rules, as the proposal was lodged by a councillor.

But supporters maintain the scheme is suitable for the area and will not harm local landmarks.

Members of the borough council’s planning committee voted to approve the scheme yesterday afternoon, following a visit to the site.

They rejected the advice of planning officers, who said the scheme should be refused permission because of the harm they say would be done to the surrounding conservation area and several listed buildings.

Opponents had previously argued that the plan, if approved, would destroy a centuries-old landscape in the heart of the village.

And, speaking after the meeting, resident Mary Moat said they would look at what steps they can take to challenge the committee’s decision.

She dismissed the plan as a “pastiche” housing estate, adding: “It’s going to oblitterate the centre of the village and take away that landscape.

“It can never be replaced. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

During the debate, committee member Elizabeth Watson pleaded with her colleagues not to put a “very precious” area at risk.

She said: “I don’t normally feel so passionately about a site as I do on this one.”

But Chris Crofts said he could not see the risk of harm to the area that opponents had warned of.

And Geoffrey Wareham said the positioning of new homes close to the Grade One listed St George’s Church would help to protect it for future generations.

He said: “They’re the people who will keep the roof on it and put flowers in it, not the ones who have the site three miles away.”

Vice-chairman Mick Peake said there wasn’t a more sustainable development site in Methwold, adding: “You could live on this site and you wouldn’t even need a bicycle.”

And Avril Wright said the positioning of a playground in the area, which officials said was allowed under permitted development rules “made a mockery” of the process.

Concerns have also been raised about how the application was handled because it was submitted by a member of the council, one of the village’s ward representatives, Martin Storey.

Agenda papers confirm that the application was referred to the committee because of Mr Storey’s position as a councillor.

But Jim Moriarty, who was one of two committee members to vote against the scheme along with Mrs Watson, suggested the case raised questions over whether councillors should judge planning applications submitted by their colleagues.

He stressed he did not believe any rules had been broken, but argued the application would have been rejected by officers under delegated powers had an applicant proposed it who was not a councillor.

He said he would consider seeking an amendment to the council’s constitution so that such applications were considered by officers, rather than councillors, in the future.

And he said he was “very disappointed” the committee had not taken the chance to turn down an application where officials had told them they could, without falling foul of the borough’s current lack of housing land.

He said: “We’ve been looking to refuse things all week, but the lack of a five year land supply means we don’t have the power.

“The only occasion officers suggest an application should be turned down and the five year land supply isn’t strong enough, it’s voted through.”