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Pickles appoints panel to oversee Norwich road hearings

Words: Sam Waddicor

Eric Pickles has appointed a panel of three inspectors, rather than one, to recommend the fate of a controversial £148.5 million road scheme in Norwich.

Planning inspector Elizabeth Hill had been due to hear evidence in a series of summer hearings and then make a recommendation to the secretary of state on whether to grant the development consent order (DCO). But now Pickles has brought in Peter Robottom, Austin Smyth and David Richards as the examining authority to oversee the hearings and then make recommendations to the secretary of state, due to the complex nature of the scheme and the high level of public interest.

The Norwich Northern Distribution Road (NDR) is a proposed 20 km dual carriageway that would connect the A47 at Postwick in the east with the A1067 Fakenham Road to the north west. The project has been labelled a nationally significant infrastructure project and been allocated £86.5m for the road between the A47 and the A10, with the council picking up the cost of the extension to the A1067.

The developers say that it will carry 40,000 vehicles a day between the airport and the A47 at Postwick, drawing traffic from other roads. They also say it will improve daily commuter transport around Norwich’s northern fringes and bring relief for communities that struggle with congestion.

The plans have met with opposition from a number of groups such as Friends of the Earth, Stop Norfolk Urbanisation (SNUB) and the Green Party, who all say it will increase congestion and cause large areas of the countryside to be concreted over. They also say that the council has mishandled public consultations and even lost submissions that SNUB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), another group opposed to the scheme, made about their concerns.

CPRE Norfolk's branch manager Katy Jones said: “This is an astonishing catalogue of legal and procedural mistakes, mainly by Norfolk County Council, who are trying to force through the NDR on very spurious grounds.

“They are obliged to consult and then consider the views of the public and affected parties, but they have failed to do this correctly throughout the process.”

Objections have also been raised by CTC, the national cycling charity, who claim the project is dangerous for cyclists. They say that it doesn’t include adequate cycling facilities and that it doesn’t integrate with the existing cycleways in the area.

The first hearings are set to take place in Norwich and Thorpe St Andrew on 22 July.

Photo Credit: Evelyn Simak