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Villages across West Norfolk are breathing a collective sigh of relief as a planning loophole appears to be plugged.

The move by West Norfolk Council may prove to be a life-line against future over-development for some villages, but it could be too late for others.

The council announced this week its officers believe there is now a five year land supply of deliverable housing sites across the borough.

While the five year plan was absent, there was a free for all with applications for hundreds of new homes.

A government framework said planners  must favour approval of development if there was no local land supply plan. The council believed it always had one, but was told by Whitehall last year that it did not.

The five year supply will be put to the test next month at a public inquiry into a proposed development at Heacham.

A statement from the council said the announcement had been made on the basis of the work carried out as part of that appeal.

“This position will be tested thoroughly at the inquiry which takes place from May 17 to 24,  but the council believes it can demonstrate such a level of supply,” the statement said.

It added: “Given this, planning applications which have not already been given approval, or which do not have a resolution to approve, will now be considered on the basis of the existing and emerging local policies within the council’s Local Plan.

“In practice, this means that rather than being assessed against the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development, applications for housing will now be assessed against local development boundaries and other locally-agreed housing supply policies.

“The Inspector’s report is anticipated in early to mid July, and we will reassess the position on five year supply following receipt of the appeal decision.”

But some villages have already seen growth of at least twice what had been expected.

Bob King, chairman of Gayton Parish Council, said while the announcement did give hope to parishes, Gayton was already “miles over” the locally-agreed number of 23 homes.

He said the village had increased in size by around 25 per cent because of the loophole and had suffered “disproportionate” amounts of housing approval.

Ninety three homes have already been approved following three major applications and this week, another major plan has also emerged for the village.

New Hall Properties (Eastern) Ltd, of Essex, wants to build 50 family homes on land north of St Nicholas Close.

Mr King said he assumed councillors would now be able to determine this under the Local Development Framework, which meant it could be rejected more easily.

“Certainly anything outstanding, this 50, 40 more for Manor Farm and anything else that comes in, will be assessed against the Local Development Framework and we will  make our comments on the basis of that,” said Mr King.

“It does give hope to parishes but there have been so many approvals now. Our hope is they (the borough council) have met the required number but we have still got lumbered with 93 where approval has been granted.”

The parish of Grimston  has also had around double the originally required number of homes approved.

John Missing, parish council clerk, said councillors were “very concerned” about the impact new development would have on the parish’s already struggling drainage system.

Approval has been granted for around 50 homes in Grimston against the original 23.

“The main problem we have concern about is the sewerage situation. It isn’t coping. We had someone from Anglian Water at our meeting on April 11 and they said they have no capital expenditure programme in place to cope with all this development.” she said.

He added there had been flooding problems in Pott Row for at least 15 years.

“In Chapel Road the gardens flood, but it isn’t water, it’s sewage,” said Mr Missing, who added parish councillors had previously raised the issue with North West Norfolk MP, Henry Bellingham.

“Our sewage works cannot cope now, how are they going to cope when all this development goes through? We are very concerned,” he said.