Campaigners press for referendum on greater Norwich growth plans

Campaigners battling against plans for thousands of new homes and jobs in and around Norwich want a referendum on the idea - but claim the plan is being snubbed by councillors.

Members of Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) want parish councils to the north-east of Norwich to hold the polls into the controversial growth proposals, which include schemes such as the Rackheath eco-town.

Stephen Heard, chairman of SNUB, said the polls would be a proper test of local feeling about the proposed growth in the area.

But he said although he had written to Broadland District Council leader Simon Woodbridge in the summer and handed a letter to his deputy Andrew Proctor, he had received no reply.

Mr Woodbridge denied the campaign group had been disregarded, and the council was still keen to engage with them, but he said it would be difficult to carry out such a poll until the government had set out what the new planning system should look like.

'I am fairly sure I did respond,' Mr Woodbridge said. 'They are not being snubbed at all. They are still at the table making some very valid points that we will listen to.

'The government does want more engagement and I completely agree with that, but whether we get a balanced message back that reflects the pressure that the district is under to find areas where development can take place, is a different matter.'

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Broadland is one of four councils which have joined together to form the Greater Norwich Development Partnership, tasked with detailing where more than 30,000 new homes and jobs should be in the area.

The councils last week each agreed to stick with the joint core strategy (JCS), but want an early review once the outcome of the government's comprehensive spending review is known later this month, particularly if funding is cut for schemes such as the Norwich northern distributor road, which are vital to the strategy's success.

He said GNDP officials had also invited SNUB to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss its JCS submission to the planning inspector, but he was yet to be convinced that the invite was little more than a tick-box exercise.

Mr Heard said: 'I think it's much more powerful if there is a referendum as it gives people an opportunity to say what they think and people can make their minds up.'

Meanwhile, in a separate move, the chairman of Wroxham parish council has written to neighbouring parishes inviting them to a meeting to discuss government plans to shake-up the planning system amid fears that ministers may bypass the views of parish councils.

Colin Spelman, chairman of Wroxham parish council, said he had written to neighbouring parish and Broadland MP Keith Simpson to set up a meeting to discuss the government's proposed changes to the planning system.

'Everybody can see that we need houses, but they are concerned about the distribution as it's all being concentrated within three parishes,' Mr Spelman said. 'We want the parishes to stand up and be counted.'