A County Hall meeting to discuss Norwich road schemes descended into chaos after opposition councillors claimed the wrong chairman was in charge.

The meeting was abandoned after less than 10 minutes after a senior Labour figure led a walk out in protest.

The farce was the latest in a series of debacles to have hit the committee, which makes key decisions over major city transport schemes. Last year, several roads projects had to be reviewed after it emerged incorrect procedures had been followed.

Discussions over the £4.4m revamp of Norwich's Heartsease roundabout and a new £1.2m link road near the city's airport were meant to take place at County Hall on Wednesday (May 31).

Eastern Daily Press: The Heartsease roundabout in NorwichThe Heartsease roundabout in Norwich (Image: Denise Bradley)

But shortly after it started, the Transport for Norwich advisory committee meeting was abandoned after Labour city councillor Ian Stutely led his party colleagues in walking out.

Eastern Daily Press: Labour city councillor Ian Stutely forced the abandonment of a council meeting when he walked out in protestLabour city councillor Ian Stutely forced the abandonment of a council meeting when he walked out in protest (Image: Ian Stutely)

Mr Stutely had been concerned the meeting had not been set up according to agreed terms of reference, which state it should consist of councillors from Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council and Broadland District Council.

They state one of the four county council members should be cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport - Graham Plant - and that they should chair the meeting.

Eastern Daily Press: Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transportGraham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport (Image: Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk)

But in agenda papers, Mr Plant was not listed as being a member of the committee, with his deputy Lana Hempsall listed as meeting chair.

Conservative John Ward, Labour's Emma Corlett and Liberal Democrat Brian Watkins were listed as the other three county representatives.

Eastern Daily Press: Lana HempsallLana Hempsall (Image: Conservative Party)

When the meeting opened, Mrs Hempsall said she had replaced Mr Plant as chair because he was at a family funeral.

Mr Stutely asked if that was a temporary measure and if Mr Plant, to whom the committee makes recommendations and who makes final decisions, would be a committee member and chair future meetings.

Mrs Hempsall replied: "I'm taking his place today. I haven't got a crystal ball for any future gazing."

Mr Stutely asked for further clarification, saying the committee papers described Mrs Hempsall as the chair, which he said "suggests that you're the permanent chair".

Kat Hulatt, the council's monitoring officer, said: "I suggest that has been put on because there was an understanding that councillor Hempsall would be chairing today."

She said the terms of reference allowed for substitutes, that the meeting would only be making recommendations to Mr Plant and therefore could go ahead.

Mr Stutely said he understood in "exceptional circumstances" substitutes could be allowed.

But he added: "It appears this committee has been set up and the front page of the committee papers suggest councillor Plant is not a member of the committee at all.

"It would be inappropriate, I think, for a member of the cabinet, who actually has responsibility for making decisions, given this is an advisory body, not to be in attendance and taking part in the debate and discussion of important transport matters."

READ MORE: Labour in call for change over Norfolk road decisions

Mrs Hempsall said Mr Plant would be appraised of the committee's discussions.

But Mr Stutely said without assurances Mr Plant would be the future chair, he was not prepared to continue with the meeting as an "exceptional circumstance".

He then walked out, along with three other Labour councillors. That meant there were not enough councillors left for it to continue, so it was abandoned.

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Hempsall said she was disappointed the walk-out meant important road safety measures could not be discussed.

READ MORE: Norwich Heartsease roundabout revamp mystery landowners plea

It is the latest fiasco to surround decision-making over the major Transport for Norwich schemes, funded by £32m of government Transforming Cities cash.

Last year, it emerged the Transport for Norwich Joint Committee - the forerunner of the latest committee - had followed incorrect procedures.

Eastern Daily Press: The revamped St Stephens Street in NorwichThe revamped St Stephens Street in Norwich (Image: Archant)

Councillors had voted on decisions for major schemes such as the £6.1m revamp of St Stephens Street and the £330,000 changes to Grapes Hill roundabout.

Eastern Daily Press: The Grapes Hill roundabout in NorwichThe Grapes Hill roundabout in Norwich (Image: Archant)

READ MORE: Norfolk County Council gets extension over road scheme cash

But it turned out that, under the council's constitution, the committee did not have the power to make decisions, only to make recommendations to the cabinet member.

 

 

ANALYSIS: ROADS COMMITTEE WITH A DODGY TRACK RECORD

It seems controversy is never far away when it comes to decisions over multi-million pound road schemes around Norwich.

Last year, it emerged that councillors who had been voting for or against major road schemes in and around the city had no power to do so.

And a row over whether the Conservative-controlled council was sticking to the terms of reference for a committee meeting to discuss two of the latest projects led to a councillor walking out.

This was a meeting where councillors were supposed to make recommendations over two major schemes - the £4.4m revamp of Heartsease roundabout and the new £1.2m link road at Norwich Airport.

But, Labour city councillor Ian Stutely took issue with the set up of the committee and walked out in protest, forcing the meeting's abandonment.

What makes that even more remarkable is that this is, pretty much, the same committee embroiled in controversy in the past.

You would have thought officers and the county council's administration would have been particularly keen to prevent any issues.

There is still bad blood between Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council over County Hall's decision to end an arrangement, in place from the 1970s until 2020 over road schemes in the city.

Until county Conservatives ended the agreement, County Hall used to delegate authority to the city council for work, including over pot-holes, highway improvements and maintenance and civil parking enforcement.

With the end of that agreement, the Norwich Highways Agency Committee and then the Transport for Norwich Joint Committee made decisions.

Yet, somehow, for some time, councillors on the latter committee were, unbeknown to them, making decisions they had no power to make.

They only had powers to make recommendations to the county council's transport cabinet member.

Yet, a year on, and there is fresh controversy over the committee which superseded that one.

Of course, Mr Plant's family funeral is a justifiable reason for him to have missed the latest meeting.

But surely, in future, he must be a member - and chair - of this committee, which advises him on his key decisions which are so important to people in Norwich.