Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Council bosses are hoping to kick-start work on the proposed multi-million northern bypass around Norwich - by getting it declared a project of national importance.
All interested parties, including anyone affected by the route, have the right to take part. The process would then be:
1. Pre-application - when the proposal will be going through development and wide consultation. That would take place in the new year.
2. The Planning Inspectorate considers whether the application can proceed. This includes the adequacy of the consultation.
3. A preliminary meeting of interested parties is held to set out a timetable for examining the application.
4. The application is examined through written submissions and a public hearing. The Planning Inspectorate has six months to carry out the examination.
5. After examination, a recommendation to the Secretary of State must be issued within three months, and the secretary of state has three months to issue a decision.
6. There is an opportunity for legal challenge through a judicial review.
The £141.5m scheme, known as the Northern Distributor Road (NDR), has been on the drawing board for a decade and £86.5m towards the cost has been secured from the government.
But the 19.5km road has yet to get planning permission and council leaders are worried that, if the usual planning route is followed, it could delay construction of the road, which they say has the potential to bring in £1.3bn of investment to the county.
Officers are asking for councillors to give the go-ahead for the council to use recent government legislation to kick-start the process of getting permission for the road.
They say the dual carriageway road, which would stretch from the A47 at Postwick to the A1067 Fakenham Road, meets the criteria to be designated as a National Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).
If the road was dealt with as such a project, it would mean the council would not have to submit an application for it to its own planning committee and would not have to deal with side road orders or compulsory purchase orders separately.
Instead, an independent inspector appointed by the planning inspectorate, would decide whether permission should be granted for all those things.
The inspectorate would make their decision after looking at written submissions and a public hearing and council bosses insist those against the road would get their say.
Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said: “Using that process improves our chances of work starting on time in 2015 and it will save public money because of the inflationary costs if we went beyond that.”
Part of the reason for the council’s determination to get the project moving is that a public inquiry is looming for a key project which will form the gateway for the eastern end of the road.
The so-called Postwick Hub is a new interchange which will serve the proposed Broadland Gate business park – and the scheme has already secured planning permission.
The new road scheme will see the closure of slip roads leading on and off the A47 on to Yarmouth Road, but the scheme is also the potential starting off point for the NDR.
A public inquiry was due to be held in September, but was postponed by the Highways Agency because a revised traffic assessment on the impact of the changes had yet to be finalised.
The county council wants to include the Postwick Hub as part of the NDR in the application for the road. That would mean, even if a planning inquiry decides the Postwick Hub does not stack up on its own, it would still stand a chance of getting the go-ahead as part of the road in its entirety.
Campaigners against the road, who argue it is just a means to build thousands of homes on the outskirts of Norwich and will lead to even more traffic, said the move was a sign of how “desperate” they were getting.
Denise Carlo, spokeswoman for the Norfolk and Norwich Transport Action Group, which is against the NDR and the Postwick Hub, said: “Norfolk County Council’s latest wheeze reflects a degree of desperation. The reason that central government didn’t promote a NDR as a nationally important project in the first place is because they didn’t regard the county’s proposal as being of national importance.”
Green county councillor, Andrew Boswell, said: “It follows a long series of manoeuvres by the council to try to overcome local opposition to the road - I’m not at all surprised that they’re trying to take yet another manoeuvre.”
But district council leaders and business bosses said the road is vital to Norwich and Norfolk, with the attempt to kick-start it coming as fresh impetus is given to calls to improve the A47.
Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “We need to see action on the NDR to secure the potential growth in the economy, resulting in the jobs we are all striving for.”
Stefan Gurney, director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, said: “Businesses are looking at the NDR to help reduce congestion in the city centre and that has to be seen as a positive, if it is done the right way.”
Council leaders said the road goes hand in hand with the Norwich Area Transport Strategy, which includes a proposed network of rapid bus routes.
Andrew Proctor, leader of Broadland District Council, said the road was vital to the county’s economic growth, with no growth without infrastructure, while Norwich City Council leader Brenda Arthur said taking traffic off Norwich’s radial roads would make a real difference to quality of life in the city.
But, with the NDR ending at the A1067 and not connecting to the A47 to the west of Norwich, because no solution could be found to take it through the Wensum Valley, critics have said it will lead to more rat-running through area such as Taverham, Costessey and the Marlpit areas.
Members of Norfolk County Council’s cabinet will be asked to make a decision on whether to go down the NSIP route at a meeting on Monday.
They will also be asked to agree to some changes along the proposed route, including shifting a roundabout earmarked for Fir Covert Road in Hellesdon to Fakenham Road, the end of the NDR.
A proposed pedestrian, cycling and farm vehicle bridge at Low Road in Great Plumstead will also be swapped for an all vehicle bridge at Middle Road instead, with Low Road closed.
Those and other changes will add an extra £5m to the bill for the road, but council leaders said it was a direct response to concerns raised by the public during consultation.
The council says the extra cost will be underwritten by the county council, although other ways of paying for it through grants and government funding will be explored.
The cabinet will also be asked to agree that extension work on the Postwick Park and Ride site should start. Planning permission is due to expire in May next year and a new application would have to be lodged unless work gets under way.