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Thetford's new housing and ‘bad management and neglect’ of its heritage prompts fear of identity crisis from councillor and residents

It was once the ancient capital of East Anglia and is known as the jewel in Breckland’s crown.

But the historic market town of Thetford’s rich heritage is under threat due to “bad management and neglect” according to one local councillor.

Terry Jermy, leader of the Labour group at Breckland Council made the claims at a recent cabinet meeting, raising fears the “historic core” of the town has been “eroded” over the last decade.

Thetford's riverside. Picture: Google Maps
Thetford's riverside. Picture: Google Maps

It comes as Breckland Council has launched a new project that seeks to create a new ‘cultural masterplan’ for the market town which will help preserve and manage its heritage through £250,000 in funding.

Mr Jermy, who represents Thetford’s Priory ward, said: “We have an amazing history in Thetford and it has been incredibly disappointing over the last decade to see the historic core be eroded through bad management or neglect.

“It is about time we put a line in the sand and said no more, – we need to protect and conserve Thetford.”

These concerns have been echoed by locals living in the town, who have been having lively debates on social media about the effect of major housing developments on the town’s outskirts upon the high street.

Martyn Everett, 67, who has been an active member of these discussions, said: “A lot of people are concerned about the current model of building large housing estates which are turning Thetford into a dispersed community at the expense of a thriving town centre.

“They are cookie-cutter houses with nothing to make them remarkable.

“The town centre currently feels like a static museum. There has been a lack of foresight and there needs to be more effort to make it a dynamic place to live. It has become degraded and it has lost things of value.

“We need something to turn it back into a living and breathing community and not just somewhere to dump houses.”

Thetford has a rich history and was once East Anglia’s ancient capital and remains the fourth largest settlement in the county.

It is known as the birthplace of Thomas Paine, one of the United States of America’s ‘founding fathers’, and it was also used as the backdrop to the classic BBC wartime sitcom, Dad’s Army.

But in recent years it has faced questions about its future.

Thousands of homes are being built in the area, prompting questions about whether it is becoming a dormitory town – where people live to then travel elsewhere for work – rather than a destination.

Councillor Jermy also fears these new developments are being built with no “local flavour or context”, such as incorporating Norfolk flint that historic buildings in the town were once made with, leaving them looking like “identikit” estates with no character.

Breckland Council is to begin a public consultation to review the conservation area of the town, which will help highlight areas to improve and update planning policies for the future.

The authority hopes it can build on the successes made in Swaffham to improve the high street’s heritage which will utilise £250,000 in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the project. to promote the culture and character of the town.

Deputy leader Sarah Suggitt said: “We hope this will be a real positive for the historic town of Thetford. The appraisal will set out an approach to preserve and manage the conservation area and has been brought forward thanks to this funding for a new cultural masterplan.”

The public can comment on the consultation via Breckland Council’s website, which will be open between January and February.