As plans are revealed for a massive re-imagining of Thetford's Abbey estate, which could see more than 500 homes demolished, many locals are facing an uncertain future. JOEL ADAMS reports

When Robert and Veronica Fairclough paid off their mortgage more than a decade ago, they could look forward to retirement in their beautifully appointed home before handing the property to their daughter.

Now, they face the prospect of their home on Thetford's Abbey estate being torn down as part of plans for a massive reimagining of the troubled area.

The project would see housing association, Flagship Housing Group, demolish and rebuild 540 homes while adding a further 490.

If the scheme goes ahead the Faircloughs will be offered "fair market value" for their Lincoln Way home.

But the estimated £150,000 it will raise will not buy them an equivalent home in the area, where the average house price is more than £240,000.

"We paid off our mortgage 12 years ago. Never in our worst nightmares did we think something like this could happen,” said Mr Fairclough,75, who has lived in his house since it was built in the 1970s and spent his working life in the town’s Thermos factory.

“We're horrified. They could improve the estate without knocking down all these houses to build new ones but they want the money from the new builds.”

That is a frequent accusation levelled on the estate against Flagship, which during a three-year consultation has told residents that if they vote for options with more new housing, their estate will receive more additional improvements and investments.

“The more we can do, the more benefits you will get,” is how a Flagship executive puts it in a voiceover to a video produced by the organisation.

Eastern Daily Press: How the railway edge of the estate could look, according to flagship's latest plans revealed todayHow the railway edge of the estate could look, according to flagship's latest plans revealed today (Image: Flagship)

Flagship has grand plans to improve the run-down estate and their latest concept pictures paint a picture of a more modern, attractive and green environment than the concrete cubes which currently predominate.

The company says the demolition and rebuilding of some houses, and the addition of others, are integral parts of plans which will improve anti-social behaviour on the estate by removing un-overlooked areas and gentrifying dilapidated garages. 

They have also said they could “possibly” offer homeowners a replacement home in the Abbey.

But residents ask why the estate cannot receive the investment it needs without the demolition of their homes and the squeezing in of new ones.

Eastern Daily Press: Canterbury Way, in the centre of the Abbey estate, would have more modern buildings after the redevelopmentCanterbury Way, in the centre of the Abbey estate, would have more modern buildings after the redevelopment (Image: flasghip)


Flagship, headquartered in King St in Norwich, has certainly become a very wealthy housing association, which like a charity has nonprofit status and pays no tax.

Each year it declares to the Financial Conduct Authority that “surpluses are reinvested in social housing”.

But research by this newspaper reveals Flagship has retained profits - or “surpluses” - of between £17m and £272m in each of the last ten years which have helped swell its balance sheet to £1.97bn.

Last year it made £67m and its 50 directors shared £4.6m, with chief executive David McQuade paid £296,000.

A spokesman said it had also taken on £300m in liabilities due to mergers with other HAs.

Eastern Daily Press: Flagship has accumulated considerable financial assets in recent yearsFlagship has accumulated considerable financial assets in recent years (Image: Joel Adams)

Mr Fairclough said: “Why won’t they just improve the estate rather than knock down perfectly good houses to make new ones? There’s not that much wrong - it needs more street lighting, better parking, better police presence. 

“They’ve offered us fair market value - that’s all very well but they’re not worth a lot, where am I going to find a house equivalent to this for that price? 

“We were going to leave our house to our daughter. Instead of that, by the time the consultation is done and the planning has gone through and the work is underway, we’ll be nearly 80 and looking for a new home - which we won’t be able to afford.”

Eastern Daily Press: Robert and Veronica Fairclough in the doorway of their home in Lincoln Way Robert and Veronica Fairclough in the doorway of their home in Lincoln Way (Image: Joel Adams)

A Flagship spokesman said it had invested more than £40m in the Abbey since 1993, adding: “Flagship Group is a non-profit organisation, with a vision of solving the housing crisis in the east of England. We reinvest profit where it’s needed most, building new homes and improving our existing homes.”


The Abbey was the last of three major developments built after Thetford signed up to the Town Expansion Scheme in the late 1950s. Construction started in 1967 on what was a 1,000-acre farm between the railway station and the river.

In 1991 ownership was transferred from the district council to the housing association, which paid just £59m for swathes of housing stock which included the Abbey and other major housing estates.

Flagship now owns 669 of the 1,087 Abbey homes, with many of the others in the hands of those who bought their council houses when given the opportunity in the 1980s and 1990s.

But deprivation and anti-social behaviour have been a blight on the estate, which for young people’s wellbeing ranks 36th-worst out of England’s more than 32,000 government districts - in the lowest 0.1pc.

So in 2019 Breckland District Council (BDC), Norfolk County Council (NCC) and Flagship agreed the estate needed redevelopment and the housing association kicked off a consultation.

Eastern Daily Press: How the estate looks todayHow the estate looks today (Image: Sonia Duncan)

There have been seven drop-in sessions attended by up to 100 people and 2,905 surveys have been filled in.

Residents highlighted a lack of street lighting, poor leisure facilities especially for children and teenagers, poorly maintained garages, poor parking, and a real problem with fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour.

Dozens of people sent positive feedback on the plans, including several comments in favour of radical overhaul and modernisation of the estate, but several told the EDP they felt Flagship had not listened to those who were simply focused on making necessary improvements.

Four options were provided, ranging from a small number of improvements with a small number of additional units to major changes which include hundreds of new builds.


The design being unveiled at events next week is not Option 1, 2, 3, or 4, but an amalgam.

Flagship has declined to reveal how many votes each option received, but said 75pc liked all the design ideas in options one and four.

The final design calls for 540 homes to be demolished and replaced “like for like” and a further 490 homes built, and is “a flexible design of what it could look like” according to the developer.

Eastern Daily Press: The plan unveiled this week is the result of years of consultationThe plan unveiled this week is the result of years of consultation (Image: Flagship)

There will be a new well-lit ring path around the estate, more green spaces near the river, a new footpath to town, and a new park in the centre of the estate, for which properties on Chichester Way will be removed from one side of the street, with low-rises built on the opposite side to replace them.

But residents will lose garages which will be converted into homes, and many small green spaces around the estate will be filled in with new properties.

The plan also includes retrofitting all Flagship’s properties unaffected by the design, to ensure they are efficient and affordable for the long term. 

Flagship has promised that freeholders will not be out of pocket and tenants will be offered alternative accommodation during any period of disruption.

With planning not even at pre-application stage, work is anticipated to start in three to four years, with construction carried out in phases. A flagship spokesman said it was a long-term investment which the firm anticipates to take around 15 to 20 years.

Eastern Daily Press: the proposed new layout of the estate, with nearly 500 additional housesthe proposed new layout of the estate, with nearly 500 additional houses (Image: flagship)

Peter Hawes, chairman of Flagship Group, said: “Based upon what we’ve heard, and our own feasibility studies, we’ve come up with a design that captures as many of the improvements that local people have told us they want to see as possible as we have always wanted to unite and not divide the community through any improvements.

“Now, we want to talk to local people about this design and the potential if offers for their community.

“We would urge Abbey residents to please come along and join us and find out more about the design for the Abbey that could benefit their community now, and for generations to come.”