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Thetford Abbey Estate locals voice opposition to revamp plan

A potential revamp of a Norfolk estate that houses thousands of people has moved a step closer amid growing frustrations among locals.
Abbey estate housing

A potential revamp of a Norfolk estate that houses thousands of people has moved a step closer amid growing frustrations among locals.

Some of those living on the Abbey Estate in Thetford travelled to Breckland Council’s offices in Dereham to voice their concerns at plans which could see their homes bulldozed to make way for new ones.

It came as cabinet members agreed to sign a second memorandum of understanding with developer Flagship Housing, outlining a commitment to work together towards the project and paving the way for a future planning application to be submitted.

People living in the neighbourhood complained they have not been properly consulted and have said the money would be better spent improving existing homes rather than knocking them down.

Homeowner Fiona Kiane, who has lived there for 23 years, spoke on behalf of the newly-formed residents association.

She said: “Flagship have tried railroading residents into agreeing with the plans and have not listened to what we want.

“We love living here. The existing homes should be refurbished rather than knocked down to fit more in.”

Another local, who has lived there for 53 years, added: “For five years I’ve had this hanging over me that I may lose my home. I don’t want to move at my age.”

Since 2019, Flagship has been pursuing the £250m redevelopment, which it says will bring “meaningful change” to one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country and it has carried out extensive consultation surveys to hear local’s views.

It would see 540 homes demolished and rebuilt while also adding a further 490.

What the revamp could look like (Image: flasghip)

Peter Hawes, Flagship Group chairman, said: “We’ve always wanted to unite and not divide the community through any improvements. We understand that change can be worrying.”

Homeowners have been left in limbo over the future of their homes ever since, with the project potentially requiring the council to use compulsory purchase orders to buy properties from them.

It has meant house prices have dropped in value, according to Ms Kiane, making homeowners on the estate concerned they will be unable to afford a similar property elsewhere if the scheme goes ahead.

At a cabinet meeting on Monday, Thetford councillor Terry Jermy, who has been critical of the project, said: “For all its challenges, the community spirit on the Abbey Estate has always impressed me – it is something we should acknowledge, work with and develop with this regeneration project.

“But it is also something that could very easily be destroyed if these plans do not progress in the right way.

“People are anxious and need reassurances. They need to be respected and listened to.”

Leader of Breckland Council, Sam Chapman-Allen, sought to reassure people living on the estate that signing the memorandum of understanding does not mean the council is giving the go-ahead for the plans.

But it instead provides a “strategic seat at the table” to be able to influence how the development progresses.

“Don’t think we don’t care, we absolutely do and we won’t stop supporting residents,” said Mr Chapman-Allen.

“We need to ensure meaningful conversations are taking place.”

Questions were also raised over the Breckland Council-owned green spaces in the Abbey Estate, which would be handed over to Flagship at no cost under the agreement.

Roger Atterwill, leader of Breckland’s Independent Group, said: “Flagship is a business, not a charity and is there to make money.

“I find it difficult to comprehend that this council is seeking to pass this land over for free.”

Following the meeting, Abbey Estate locals said they felt like they had been “listened to” and were reassured that councillors would continue to support them during discussions with Flagship over the scheme.

More details of the regeneration project will be revealed when planning proposals are submitted in the future.

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