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Sewer fear flushed out

PUBLISHED: 07:00 13 March 2010 | UPDATED: 11:14 07 July 2010

Chris Hill

Fears that a massive planned expansion of Fakenham could be put on hold because of inadequate sewerage have been allayed by environment officers.

The concerns were raised last year as North Norfolk District Council officers drafted local development framework (LDF) plans for where vital new housing could be built until 2021.

Fears that a massive planned expansion of Fakenham could be put on hold because of inadequate sewerage have been allayed by environment officers.

The concerns were raised last year as North Norfolk District Council officers drafted local development framework (LDF) plans for where vital new housing could be built until 2021.

The plan allocated land to the south of the A148 bypass for about 800 homes, along with a new primary school, business land and leisure areas.

But the Environment Agency (EA) objected to the Fakenham proposal because it was unclear if the existing sewage system could cope with such a surge in new housing.

A report to the LDF working party said the development “must not proceed” until the EA completed a review of licences governing the discharge of treated water into rivers including the protected Wensum.

But now the ambitious expansion is back on track after EA officers concluded that the town's existing sewage system can cope with most of the 800 planned homes.

The district council's planning policy manager, Mark Ashwell, said up to 600 houses could be built without any changes to the current licence issued for Anglian Water's treatment works in Fakenham.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that expected technological advances during the next decade could allow the remainder to be built at the latter end of the LDF period.

“We think the development we are proposing can be delivered, but it may take a bit longer than first anticipated,” said Mr Ashwell. “About 5-600 dwellings of the 7-800 planned could be built tomorrow and the water authority would be able to discharge the treated effluent without any licence changes.

“That still leaves the remaining 2-300 houses. The trigger point for those houses is some years away yet, and a number of things are likely to happen in the meantime.”

Mr Ashwell said potential advances included improvements in house-building standards which could reduce discharged sewage, and more effective methods of removing chemicals from treated water.

He said most of North Norfolk uses combined sewers for flood water and effluent, which also contributes to the amounts controlled by the licence. “If we can separate flood water from foul water the system will have more capacity,” he said.

The findings of the meetings involving district planners, the EA and Anglian Water have been submitted alongside the completed LDF proposals to await the scrutiny of a government inspector. The inspection should begin in May or June, and Mr Ashwell hopes for a final decision by the end of the year.

“If the EA had said we could not build 600 of the houses, we would have been worried,” he said. “But three quarters of the planned development appears to be OK, so we think the inspector will take a pragmatic view of that, bearing in mind the changes which could happen in the next ten years.”

An EA spokesman confirmed the current sewage system could cope with 82pc of the proposed housing growth throughout Fakenham, but said the figure did not account for growth in business use.

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