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How NDR work got the green light away from public gaze

PUBLISHED: 06:38 26 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:59 26 January 2017

The NDR bridge over Plumstead Road is installed.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The NDR bridge over Plumstead Road is installed. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant

A key decision on whether the LEP should give £10m of public money to support the biggest infrastructure project in Norfolk was made before board members had even met - and listened to opposing views.

Work at the NDR began after the £30m hole in its budget was filled by the LEP and Norfolk County Council.
 Picture: ANTONY KELLYWork at the NDR began after the £30m hole in its budget was filled by the LEP and Norfolk County Council. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

With its budget rising by 800pc in 2015-16 to £38m and council budgets slashed, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is wielding more influence on which infrastructure projects get the go-ahead.

But these decisions are made away from public scrutiny.

When the costs of the controversial Northern Distributor Road (NDR) near Norwich rose by £30m to £178.5m in 2015, the then leader of Norfolk County Council George Nobbs turned to the LEP to help.

“Sorry to burden you with such a strategic issue on your first day back,” Mr Nobbs wrote to the LEP chairman Mark Pendlington in August 2015.

Green Party councillor Andrew Boswell has raised concerns about a lack of transparency at the LEP. Photo: SubmittedGreen Party councillor Andrew Boswell has raised concerns about a lack of transparency at the LEP. Photo: Submitted

The council leader asked Mr Pendlington to lobby MP Andrew Jones, parliamentary under secretary of state for transport, for the government to share the extra £30m costs of the NDR.

The LEP had already supported the project financially and the next month, three days before its board met to vote on giving an extra £10m to help fill the NDR black hole, Mr Pendlington had already confirmed the board would be voting the money through.

“Incidentally, at the LEP Board we will also be confirming our financial support for the NDR,” he said in an email on September 6, 2015.

The LEP had invited the Green Party along to the September NDR meeting to put forward an opposing view to funding the 12.5-mile road from Postwick to Taverham.

Its board listened to councillors Andrew Boswell and Adrian Dearnley argue against it.

A spokesman for the LEP said the Green Party was asked along to “share their views on the NDR before the board voted”.

“Opportunities like this often help to ensure full information is available before a decision is taken,” they said.

But Cllr Boswell said there was little point in him going.

“It was very pre-determined,” he said. “We were speaking to closed minds.”

The LEP passed the vote thanks to two Suffolk councillors and the principal of West Suffolk College, as its Norfolk council board members had declared an interest in the project and could not vote.

The only public record of what happens at LEP board meetings are the minutes published on the New Anglia website.

But they are not always reliable.

This newspaper queried a minute from the September 2015 NDR meeting to find it was incorrect.

The minutes said that of the three board members who declared an interest in the NDR, only two – landowner and leader of South Norfolk Council John Fuller and Mr Nobbs – left the room.

The leader of Norwich City Council, Alan Waters, who had declared an interest in the 
project because of his council role, did not leave, according to the minutes.

The LEP said the minutes were incorrect and Mr Waters did leave.

A spokesperson for the LEP said: “On occasion the board invites those with a direct interest in the particular project to attend and answer questions.

“For example we invited members of the Green Party to share their views on the NDR before the board voted.”

•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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