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Did election sway council’s King’s Lynn homes decision?

todayNovember 13, 2020 7

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Councillors who rejected a major housing plan for the edge of Lynn may have been influenced by the prospect of elections just weeks later, a panel has heard.

The claim was made as West Norfolk Council’s corporate performance panel considered a report on the public inquiry into proposals for 600 homes on land at Knights Hill this week.

The scheme was unanimously rejected by the borough council’s planning committee in March 2019.

A packed town hall meeting saw the Knights Hill plan rejected last year.
A packed town hall meeting saw the Knights Hill plan rejected last year.

But it was then given the go-ahead in July following a public inquiry, which a report published ahead of the meeting showed had cost the authority more than £50,000 to stage.

Panel chairman Jim Moriarty said he had asked for the report to examine why the issue had occurred and how similar problems could be prevented in the future.

But one of its members, Simon Nash, claimed the reason was “very simple”.

Signs in South Wootton opposing the development of 600 houses on the Knights Hill site.. (26148186)
Signs in South Wootton opposing the development of 600 houses on the Knights Hill site.. (26148186)

He said: “Not six weeks after that decision, we had an election in the area. That would certainly fog certain people’s minds and that is exactly what I think happened here.

“My advice to the panel is do not hold such contentious decisions before an election and then we will get a correct and unclouded outcome.”

One member of the committee who took part in the original vote, Terry Parish, suggested the outcome may have been different if officials had been given the opportunity to say there were no planning reasons to reject the scheme.

And questions were also raised about the possibility of conducting a detailed infrastructure study to inform future decisions.

But development portfolio holder Richard Blunt said the more significant problem was the fact the site had been included in the borough’s local plan for development in the first place.

He said he had sat through meetings where the document had been “taken apart” and the plan had not been precise enough in terms of matching sites with the number of houses envisaged in each area.

He said work on the revised local plan was seeking to address that issue.

And he admitted the authority needs to do more to make communities aware of the work that is taking place, so that applications did not come as a shock when they are submitted.

He said: “We do need to communicate better with parishes and councillors.”

And council leader Brian Long urged all members to take planning training when it was offered, saying that would help them to “be a better councillor”.

Mr Blunt also proposed the formation of a stakeholders group to oversee the future development of the Knights Hill land in order to get “the best possible deal” for the area.

A similar group is already operating in relation to major developments around West Winch and North Runcton.

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