A decision to hold future meetings over Norwich road schemes behind closed doors has been blasted as 'outrageous' and 'a disgrace'.

Conservative-run Norfolk County Council has decided to disband a committee of councillors which met publicly to discuss projects such as the £4.4m Heartsease roundabout revamp and the £6.1m St Stephens Street facelift.

Eastern Daily Press: Work on St Stephens StreetWork on St Stephens Street (Image: Archant 2022)

Instead, a 'steering group' will discuss matters behind closed doors, with the public not permitted to hear what councillors are saying about schemes which affect tens of thousands of people and are paid for using £32m of taxpayers' money.

That has been slammed by opposition councillors and the leader of Norwich City Council, who say it is essential that such discussions should be open to public scrutiny.

But council leaders have defended their decision, saying meetings have become too mired in controversy, including one which had to be scrapped when a Labour councillor led a walk out.

Eastern Daily Press: Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County CouncilEmma Corlett, deputy leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Brittany Woodman)

But Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the county council Labour group, who has called the decision in to the council's scrutiny committee, said: "It is outrageous and it is taking accountability even further away from the local people affected.

"These road and transport schemes should be open to more public scrutiny, not less. Doing things in secret only undermines public confidence in local government."

Eastern Daily Press: Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County CouncilBrian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council (Image: Liberal Democrats)

Brian Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall and a member of the committee, said: "It's a disgrace.  They're shutting down the views of those best placed to represent the views of people in their local communities.

"Norwich residents should expect that such discussions are taken in public, and not behind closed doors."

Eastern Daily Press: Norwich City Council Labour leader Mike StonardNorwich City Council Labour leader Mike Stonard (Image: Archant)

And Mike Stonard, Labour leader of Norwich City Council, said: "It's important that discussions and decisions are made transparently and in public.

"People need to know their views are being represented in these discussions and I see no reason why these meetings should be behind closed doors."

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 HoneywoodArchantNorwichNorfolk)

Ben Price, leader of the Green group at County Hall, said: "Following a series of poorly-designed traffic schemes, the need for transparent decision-making with local involvement is very clear. 

"It is very disappointing that instead of allowing local people to have a meaningful say on what they need for local transport and the road changes that affect them, the Conservatives are taking decisions behind closed doors."

The decision, made by Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, came about because of a blunder in the way projects had been handled in the past.

The Transport for Norwich joint committee - made up of councillors from Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council and Broadland District Council - had given numerous schemes the go-ahead.

But it emerged last year that councillors had no power to make decisions, even though they believed they did.

Instead, power rested with the chairman of the committee - the Conservative cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport - and councillors were only meant to recommend a course of action for them to approve.

Once that was discovered, the committee's name was changed to the Transport for Norwich advisory committee, making clear it would only make recommendations to the cabinet member.

Eastern Daily Press: Work on Heartsease roundaboutWork on Heartsease roundabout (Image: Denise Bradley)

But one of its meetings was abandoned when Labour city councillor Ian Stutely led a Labour councillor walk out in protest, because it was announced it would be chaired by deputy cabinet member Lana Hempsall, not cabinet member Mr Plant.

Now, that committee will be replaced by the Transport for Norwich steering group, with members drawn from the county council, city council and the two district councils.

It will discuss major road schemes and advise the cabinet members, like the previous committee, only behind closed doors.

Eastern Daily Press: Work on Heartsease roundaboutWork on Heartsease roundabout (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Plant said: "The Transport for Norwich advisory committee has created some confusion and disagreement in recent months. 

"We want to take part in meaningful discussions with our city and district partners on how we can improve safety and connectivity in Greater Norwich - but this hasn’t happened often enough.

"There have already been delays to key schemes due to meetings that either didn’t take place or were cut short. It is important we continue to demonstrate our ability to deliver improvements to our transport network.

"We will continue to consult on our schemes in the same way as before and this feedback will be published as part of any decisions we make."


Transparency and openness should be the fundamental principle behind everything councils do.

Not our words, but a directive issued to councils by the UK government.

It happens to be a sentiment we agree with wholeheartedly - although sadly, it seems Norfolk County Council does not.

If the controlling Conservative group at County Hall did, then surely they would not be looking to make changes to a committee which discusses how millions of pounds is spent on major road projects, so it meets in secret.

It beggars belief that the council thinks the solution to a huge blunder on their part - where a committee operated mistakenly for the best part of two years in its handling of £32m of taxpayers' money - is to say to the public 'this is now nothing to do with you'.

For the council to imply that having a meeting in public contributed to the confusion around that is disingenuous nonsense.

The fact is that council officers messed up and it should have been spotted sooner - whether by officers, council lawyers or councillors. It was nothing to do with the meetings being open to the public.

Also ridiculous is the suggestion that somehow, keeping out the public and press, will "support" councillors to "speak openly and frankly with their views on proposed schemes to enable the best possible solutions to be developed".

Utter hogwash. Anyone who has attended council meetings will know that councillors of all political persuasions are rarely backwards in coming forwards when it comes to representing their views and those of their residents.

Frankly, if a councillor is worried about saying something for fear of how it will be received or because another councillor may disagree with them, maybe they should not be a councillor.

The council, belatedly, has established that this committee-turned-steering group does not make decisions. It only advises. That does frustrate some, although the council's constitution allows for that.

But just because it can take meetings where discussions take place behind closed doors, does not mean it should.

That is a disservice to the public, who rely on councillors to reflect their views. That should happen publicly, not in secret.