Cheers and applause filled King’s Lynn Town Hall when council members unanimously rejected proposals for up to 600 new homes at South Wootton.
Around 200 objectors, some with signs, attended a highly-charged meeting of West Norfolk Council’s planning committee on Wednesday.
The special meeting was called to discuss an outline application to develop 86 acres of farmland running from the Knights Hill Hotel, down Grimston Road and also bordering the A149.
In a move surprising even protestors, the council went against its planning officers’ recommendation, rejecting the application because of its potential impact on the road network and the grade I-listed castle at Castle Rising.
The council received hundreds of letters opposing the development, with North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, borough Mayor Nick Daubney and Lord Greville Howard adding their voices to the campaign.
In a letter to the committee, Sir Henry said he had never come across plans “so incredibly unpopular” in 32 years as an MP.
The application, by Whistlewood and Reffley Wood Ltd and Mr P De Gray Osborn, included affordable homes, sports pitches, a community centre, open spaces and a car park to serve Reffley Wood.
Access would be via a new roundabout in Grimston Road and a number of road improvements were proposed, including new traffic lights at the Langley Road junction, near Asda.
But campaigners maintained existing road systems, including the A149 coast road, Wootton gap junction and Grimston Road itself, could not cope.
Sir Henry warned the traffic consequences for Grimston Road and Knights Hill could be “quite horrendous and unbearable” and, with difficulties getting in and out of the new development, he asked: “Who will want to live on an estate from hell?”
He said roadworks or a single delay could already have a “vicious, cascade impact” on local roads and the development could “cripple” one of the main routes into town.
John Taylor, of Castle Rising Parish Council, said anyone living in Lynn knew there was no spare capacity to increase vehicle numbers.
He warned residents moving to the development would be “consigned to considerable misery” and living in a “rat trap”.
Mr Taylor said Castle Rising had already become a rat run, with cars cutting through the village to reach Wootton gap from the A149 to avoid the queues.
Mr Daubney, ward member for South Wootton, said members were elected by the people and should do what they genuinely felt was right.
“We are not delegates, we are elected, we represent,” he said.
“When we damage our community, we break that trust and I believe this damages our community.”
There was applause when Mr Daubney finished speaking and again when campaigner David Goddard said officers could not continue unchecked “plonking in more houses” just to achieve government targets.
Mr Goddard also warned the route from the town centre to the A149 would become gridlocked.
Borough councillor Elizabeth Nockolds also spoke against the application and said she had received an unprecedented number of emails in the days before the meeting.
She said residents were extremely concerned for their health and wellbeing and it was already “extremely stressful” trying to enter Grimston Road.
Concerns were also raised about the impact the development could have on air quality and local services, including health centres.
Paul Belton, of Camland Developments, said the greenfield site had been earmarked as a preferred site for growth by the council itself and not one “promoted at the whim of a landowner or developer”.
Officers reminded members that the highways authority had not objected to the application and the site was in the council’s Local Plan.
As the debate among members opened, councillor Samantha Sandell said she had concerns about access to the site, saying members had been caught in traffic during a site visit that morning.
Geoffrey Hipperson said 600 new homes was too many, “not just for the roads, but everything”.
Martin Storey said: “How can I support something that is going to make an area worse?”
Geoff Hall, the council’s director of planning, said he “strongly suspected” the applicant would appeal and the decision would then be in the hands of the planning inspectorate.
He urged members to be careful they could substantiate any reasons for refusal or the council could risk having costs imposed should the decision be overturned at appeal.
Chairman Vivienne Spikings proposed refusal and it was seconded by Andy Tyler.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Goddard said: “I honestly thought the committee would go with the officers’ recommendation but I’m so delighted members actually listened to the community.
“It’s very rewarding to know that the many hours of hard work have paid off. It was certainly the most contentious application I have come across.”
Mr Belton did not comment on the decision.
Sir Henry said he was delighted, adding: “Although I am not opposed to a limited amount of development in this part of South Wootton, this application was completely out of scale, unsustainable, totally unacceptable and completely lacked local support.
“I would like to pay special thanks to all those who have been actively involved in ensuring this over development did not go ahead.
“It really was a strong community effort, and it is equally heartening that the planning committee decided to trust its judgement on this rather than just following the officer’s advice.”