Update: Probe into how Norfolk County Council ‘lost’ Norwich Northern Distributor Road submissions fails to provide answers

Norwich Northern Distributor Road protesters before the last week's preliminary meeting over the planning inquiry.  Photo by Simon Finlay. Norwich Northern Distributor Road protesters before the last week's preliminary meeting over the planning inquiry. Photo by Simon Finlay.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
12:15 PM

An investigation into how submissions over the Northern Distributor Road went “missing” has failed to arrive at a definitive view as to what happened.

To send a link to this page to a friend, you must be logged in.

The Norfolk County Council probe was launched after complaints by The Green Party, campaign group Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, that their submissions over the road were lost.

They all made representations to the county council over the road and said they had received automated email responses to prove it.

But they said their submissions were not part of the county’s consultation files which have been submitted to the planning inspectorate - ahead of this summer’s inquiry into whether the £148.5m road should get permission.

Their complaint led to an internal investigation at County Hall, conducted by Al Collier, head of procurement.

His report was published today, in which he concluded he was “unable to arrive at a definitive view as to what happened”, but that he believed the council had received the submissions.

He said: “I find the alternative – that receipts were ‘spoofed’ by the complainants or that the complainants submitted emails which they then managed to recall without the council’s knowledge – far-fetched.”

But he said it was unlikely the emails were logged by the team working on the Northern Distributor Road, which was tasked with manually logging and filing each one.

He said: “The print logs show they were never printed by the logging officers. Printing normally took place at or shortly after the point of logging.

“To ‘invisibly’ remove a submission from the spreadsheet log would have required amendment also of paper files and electronic records.

“Because the logs, the paper files and the electronic records were sequentially numbered, this would have required significant effort and risk of detection.

“Anyone amending the record would have had to renumber each email received after the deleted email in the spreadsheet; copy the emails back into the mailbox in order to change the email title; save the emails under a different name; and print new paper copies and insert them in the file.”

Mr Collier suggested that one or more of the emails may have been “put aside to be dealt with later” because of their complexity, but then got mislaid.

But he said it was “implausible” that the NDR team deleted one or more emails in order to somehow improve the prospects of the road being approved.”

He said the apparent lack of a submission, particularly by the Green Party and SNUB had been noted by some middle managers, but they did not think it was up to the council to contact them to ask why.

Mr Collier’s report said there were clearly “problems” with the process, but that the planning inspectorate had concluded the complainants had not been prejudiced by the omissions as the themes of objections had been raised by others.

Council bosses said steps would be taken to prevent such losses happening again.

Tom McCabe, interim director of environment, transport and development at Norfolk County Council, said: “I am sorry that it has not proved possible to find out why the three emailed submissions went missing, but it certainly should not have happened and we are taking immediate steps to make sure that it does not happen again.

“The county council’s head of procurement has carried out an extremely thorough investigation, and although he has not been able to pin down the reasons, we have apologised to the Green Party, SNUB and CPRE.

“The county council is committed to a full and open examination of the NDR application and it was in nobody’s interests for this to happen.

“It is important that the Planning Inspectorate has concluded that none of the three organisations has been disadvantaged.

“We accept the report’s recommendations that in future the council should whenever possible use a web-based consultation system, and build in additional safeguards where email is still used.

“We are also looking at improving staff training, and a review of log retention policies to allow for investigation if things do go wrong in future.”

But the campaigners whose submissions went missing said questions still needed to be answered.

A statement issued on behalf of CPRE Norfolk, SNUB and Norwich Green Party, said: “This is an extremely disappointing but frankly not surprising outcome.

“Despite all their efforts the council cannot explain how the objections of three major opposition groups, representing tens of thousands of people, went missing. But we are somehow just supposed to accept it as ‘one of those things’.

“There are two possible conclusions we can draw from this, both of which require further action.

“If they were deliberately deleted by someone, then further investigation needs to be taken by Norfolk County Council or others to determine who this was; including re-interviewing all staff members, current ones and those who have left the council, who had access to that particular email inbox.

“But If it was a technical or accidental error, then it is so statistically unlikely that it was just our three submissions went missing, as to be unbelievable.

“In which case we must presume, that if this ‘error’ happened to us, it could have happened to other responses, and this possibility has not been fully explored.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that many other responses could have been accidentally deleted, which has significant implications on the validity of their consultation process.”

The inquiry over the NDR, which would stretch from the A47 at Postwick to the A1067 at Fakenham Road, is due to take place this summer.

16 comments

  • The loss is deliberate or due to incompetence. It is fortunate that the groups whose reponses were "lost" kept a record of receipt and checked that the response had been recorded and only then found it had been "lost". This raises the question how many other responses have been lost in this way? Most people would not have had the time or thought it necessary to check up.This throws further doubt on the whole consultation process and whether the current Planning Inquiry is appropriate. How many times has this happened with other consultations which may have affected subsequent decisions. A very alarming thought!

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    GMARTIN

    Friday, June 13, 2014

  • Interesting to see that Private Eye is now following this story in its Rotten Boroughs column.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Trevor Ashwin

    Friday, June 13, 2014

  • This is almost certainly the result of massive incompetence that seems to be endemic in county hall. The recent inquiry into the fostering service also pints this up and as it is clear that the findings of that inquiry are in the public interest, it is disappointing that the EDP have taken an interest in this.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    theanchovy

    Thursday, June 12, 2014

  • Parkeg1, you can certainly roll it in glitter but I think Gary has his hands full of them already. Interesting enough I did see the turd exhibition at Tate Modern a few years ago and I thought the artist may have got his inspiration from Norwich's Planning Committee. Bet I get flushed away for that comment.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    PDH

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • A new Chief Exec arrives shortly. She is from Canada and has no idea of the strange and wonderful ways of NCC. Anne Gibson is showing herself to be out of her depth. NCC again fudge and what was a opportunity to show clear and firm leadership. No doubt NCC will publish a report next week confirming that the cleaning lady was responsible. The only way NCC will be called to account is via a investigation by the local government ombudsman or even the police.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Little fish

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • @PDH, I think what you are trying to do there is polish a turd and we all know you can't. But you can roll it in glitter.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    parkeg1

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • So_Many_Haters! If last week's fish was given a bath, doused in perfume, buys a brand new dress and given a glossy spray tan it would be very attractive.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    PDH

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • It is interesting that the head of 'Procurement' was tasked with this inquiry. Why not the head of IT or, even better, an outside person to give an independent view of exactly what happened. I'm not a member of any organisation affected but as a resident who will be directly affected by this total waste of money, it is convenient that no-one can find these submissions. Safe to say that none of the councillors who allegedly represent me have asked what I think so are they getting a back hander? Or, more likely, they are not interested in what we think.Why start this road at Postwick when all the traffic comes from the west and south west along the A47 and A11? If I was going to the north of the county I would not go all the way past Norwich to come all the way back to the A140A1067. I would use the current roads so a complete waste of time and money which could be better spent elsewhere.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Drayton Resident

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Why are the green party whining about the NDR this is a minor party concentrated in Norwich while the NDR is a county project ideal for those who want nothing to do with the city.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Pete

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • It smacks of incompetence, is also beginning to look another ''incinerator'' type saga. I do hope the inspectors arrive at the right answer to bin this crazy scheme. It is literally a road to nowhere, from Postwick to near Attlebridge. Bin it, before it costs the same as the incinerator.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Gina

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Regardless of this problem, which is obviously being shouted from the hilltops to distract people from the obvious, how can anybody other than an institutionalised administrator expect the NDR to work without the section between the A47 in the west and the Fakenham road? Perhaps they're going make Sweet Briar Road into a cycle track to keep the lorries off?

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Max Headroom

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Try asking GCHQ or the NSA for the emails, I'm sure they have got a copy. Its quiet amazing, they can find and trace emails of terror suspects and hackers seven times around the globe, but this simple email correspondence has vanished in a puff of air, most likely deleted by some overpaid officer.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • I don't think there was any conspiracy here - it would be too noticeable a thing to do - and have little effect upon the outcome anyway. More likely it was due to a poor email handling system - the NCC IT system is notoriously bad. If you want to be sure that you have a record of anyone getting important documentation then I would recommend using Royal Mail Special Delivery only. Note: not Royal Mail Recorded Delivery because that is no longer reliable.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Cyril the Canary

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • The whole thing smells like last week's fish.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    So_Many_Haters!

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Have no real interest one way or another but it does seem like these things went astray deliberately followed by this whitewash. Parkeg I got your gist with Blatter..

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    Steely Dan

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • It's perfectly clear this is being forced through with the use of underhand tactics, this is no longer a council, it's a dictorship. I wonder how many of those councillor will be making money from this road construction? They could be more corrupt if they had Sepp Blatter in charge. Now lets see if Archant will allow that on the page.

    Add your comment | Report this comment

    parkeg1

    Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Norfolk Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 26°C

min temp: 17°C

Five-day forecast

loading...

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT