Locals fear they may miss out on vital funds if a developer is spared from paying for land and community projects as part of a major revamp project.
Breckland Council has signed an agreement with the housing association Flagship Group, which suggests land around the Abbey Estate in Thetford will be given away for free to the company.
It has led to anger among those living on the estate, which has been earmarked for a £250m regeneration that will create 460 additional homes on top of the 1,000 already there.
Hundreds of homes would also be demolished before being rebuilt for the revamp.
To show commitment to the project, Breckland Council and Norfolk County Council have signed a memorandum of understanding.
This includes a clause that agrees to “transfer any public land, at nil value” and also to exclude the developer from paying any Section 106 payments or a ‘community infrastructure levy’ – funds which could be used towards creating nearby playgrounds, schools, libraries and allotments.
While not a legally binding document, it has prompted fears it is a signal of intent from the two authorities, and an angry response from some in the town.
It comes just weeks after a similar uproar in Norwich after the city council decided to let the developer behind the Anglia Square regeneration off from a £2.3m CIL payment that could have funded community projects. This has now been brought back to the council after critics demanded a rethink.
WHY ARE PEOPLE ANGRY IN THETFORD?
Terry Jermy, Thetford county councillor, said: “There is already a lack of infrastructure, such as schools and health services across Thetford, including the Abbey Estate.
“Building this number of homes will lead to a big increase in people living in the area, putting more pressure on services without any new money coming in.
“If Flagship is not going to be making any contributions then people have the right to ask, how will this be paid for?
“It is very concerning and we urge the council to think again.”
Fiona Kiane, a homeowner who has lived on the estate for 23 years, is furious that the much-loved green spaces could be lost without any compensation for the local community.
The parcels of land have long been used by residents for barbeque get-togethers in the summer and they are home to an abundance of wildlife.
“We are not talking about a little bit of backyard, we are talking about land the size of a football pitch,” said the 57-year-old.
“I don’t agree with it at all and it feels underhanded.”
WHAT DO FLAGSHIP SAY?
Flagship is one of the biggest housing associations in the region and made a turnover of £231.9m and generated an operating profit of £83.3m in 2021/2022.
It says it reinvests any profit made into building and improving affordable homes and that the project will create “long-term, meaningful change” to the community.
It says it will create a new park, community centre and enhanced green spaces as part of the plans.
A spokesman said: “We completely understand how important the green spaces are to the community, and the plan reflects this. The improvements will allow residents to embrace the Abbey’s natural environment.”
WHAT ABOUT THE COUNCIL?
A significant amount of land on the Abbey Estate is owned by Breckland Council, which could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sam Chapman-Allen, Breckland Council’s leader, has said no decisions have been made yet and that both matters will be addressed when a planning application is put forward.
He said: “Breckland Council has bold ambitions for Thetford’s current and future residents, as described in our Future Breckland vision.
“While we are open to considering the benefits that regeneration could bring, in particular to the Abbey Estate, we have not taken any decision regarding the transfer of council-owned land or any potential transfer in the future.”