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‘The whole thing stinks to me’ - questions over farm firm move decision

PUBLISHED: 15:09 23 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:09 23 September 2020

A computer-generated image of the proposed Ben Burgess headquarters at Swainsthorpe. Pic: Ben Burgess.

A computer-generated image of the proposed Ben Burgess headquarters at Swainsthorpe. Pic: Ben Burgess.

Ben Burgess

Questions have been asked over why county councillors decided economic factors outweighed their own officers concerns over a company’s controversial bid to move its farm machinery headquarters.

Dan Roper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Liberal Democrats.Dan Roper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Pic: Liberal Democrats.

Ben Burgess wants to move its base from near County Hall in Norwich to a new two-storey headquarters off the A140, near Swainsthorpe.

The company previously warned jobs could be at risk if it is not permitted, with a decision due to be made by South Norfolk Council in due course.

As highways authority, Norfolk County Council was consulted. Highways officers initially said they would recommend refusal, because a new junction on the A140 to serve the building would be against council policies.

They had said a new roundabout at an existing junction could overcome concerns, but when an amended scheme was lodged it was still for a standalone roundabout only serving the mooted headquarters.

At a recent meeting, the Conservative-controlled cabinet voted not to object on highways grounds, saying the economic impact outweighed concerns and the council’s director of highways and waste had said the proposed roundabout would be safe.

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But that decision was called in to the council’s scrutiny committee by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors, who questioned the process.

Dan Roper, deputy leader of the Lib Dems questioned what evidence from highways officers cabinet members had drawn on in making their decision.

After hearing from cabinet members including Graham Plant, the council’s deputy leader and Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and transport, Mr Roper said they seemed to have relied on a single paragraph in the cabinet report and had requested no additional information.

Mr Plant said: “I am confident that putting a roundabout in and slowing traffic down slightly is a worthwhile position to retain a company in Norfolk.”

But Lib Dem David Harrison said: “What I am saying is the whole thing stinks to me. It is an application for a specific thing, which somebody thinks is essential and it’s no more essential than anything else.”

Mr Roper’s proposal for the matter to be sent back to cabinet to change the wording on its response to the planning application was lost.

The proposals are opposed by Swainsthorpe Parish Council and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, while a campaign group called Saving Swainsthorpe has been formed.


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