The county's first new town for centuries could be built in the heart of the Norfolk countryside.

The new settlement of 5,000 homes would fill a vast tract of land between the villages of North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, north of Dereham.

The town is designed to have a larger population than established communities like Watton (population 8,417), Fakenham (8,285) and Cromer (7,949).

The project is one of several major developments in the pipeline across Norfolk, to accommodate the region's growing population and to encourage economic growth.

Fakenham & Wells Times: An approximation of the land proposed to contain the 5,000 new homes, between North Elmham, Bintree and BillingfordAn approximation of the land proposed to contain the 5,000 new homes, between North Elmham, Bintree and Billingford (Image: Google)

However, most of the other schemes involve the expansion of existing towns such as Dereham (where 1,400 new homes are proposed), Attleborough (4,000 homes) and Thetford (5,000 homes).

A new town has also been mooted for south Norfolk, but the project is less developed than the mid-Norfolk scheme.

The settlement has been provisionally named the 'Railway Village', as it would lie close to the Mid Norfolk Railway, a heritage route which passes through North Elmham and connects with the National Rail network at Wymondham.

As part of the plans, the rail route could be upgraded to serve the new community. A new school and other facilities are also proposed for the site.

No planning application for the development has yet been lodged, but it has been named on a list of locations for potential development by Breckland Council.

The council is in the process of drawing up its new ‘local plan’ - a document outlining how the district should grow over the coming 20 years.

As part of that process, it is calling for landowners to offer up sites that might be suitable for development - and the ‘railway village’ proposal is one of them.

A similar proposal, for 10,000 homes on the same stretch of land, was made back in 2018, but was dismissed by the council after local opposition to the project.

Those concerns included the loss of agricultural land and pressure on local infrastructure.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said the new 5,000-home proposal was also “unacceptable”.

Michael Rayner, planning campaigns consultant at CPRE Norfolk, said: “The local road network is inadequate to cope with the increased traffic, which would bring unacceptable disruption to local communities,” he said.

Fakenham & Wells Times: Michael Rayner of CPRE NorfolkMichael Rayner of CPRE Norfolk (Image: CPRE Norfolk)

“The proposed site borders the highly protected River Wensum, while it partly encircles the precious habitats of Bintree Woods.

“Growth is already planned for in Fakenham and Dereham and is in current Local Plans.

“Those sites should be developed before additional allocations are added either there, or particularly on greenfield sites with no supporting infrastructure, such is the case with this speculative application which would only benefit the landowner, promoter and developer.

“Norfolk's countryside deserves much better than this.”

The document submitted to the council states that there is a “known developer interest” in the site, and that once planning permission is granted, construction could start within five years.

It estimates that some 500 homes could be built each year, meaning that it would take about a decade for the entire town to be built.

Some 25pc of the homes are proposed to be affordable, with the remaining 75pc set at market rates.

The use of ‘railway village’ as the name of the proposed development, suggests that the rail line could be used as part of the justification of the new homes.

A spokesman for the Mid Norfolk Railway said: “At this stage this is very much a speculative document and there has not been any discussions with the railway.

“The railway however is clear that any idea that the railway itself would be able to fund the reestablishment of the line and then run at regular daily commercial service to meet the needs of such a development is completely beyond the finances of the Mid Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust, which is a charity."