Investigation call as Ben Burgess move decision High Court date nears

Norwich-based farm machinery firm Ben Burgess says its proposed new headquarters at Swainsthorpe is

Norwich-based farm machinery firm Ben Burgess says its proposed new headquarters at Swainsthorpe is vital for the firm's future growth - but it has provoked angry opposition from neighbouring villagers. Pictured: A computer-generated image of the proposed HQ building. Picture: Ben Burgess - Credit: Ben Burgess

A provisional date has been set for a High Court hearing over a council's role in a company’s controversial bid to move its farm machinery headquarters - amid calls for an investigation.

Ben Burgess wants to move from near County Hall in Norwich to a new two-storey headquarters off the A140, near Swainsthorpe, with plans lodged with South Norfolk Council.

Norfolk County Council, as highways authority, 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 said a new roundabout at an existing junction could overcome concerns, but the one put forward was not at an existing junction.

At a meeting of the Conservative-controlled council cabinet in September, councillors agreed not to object, saying the economic impact outweighed the concerns of its own officers and that the council’s director of highways and waste had said the proposed roundabout would be safe.

Campaign group Saving Swainsthorpe and Swainsthorpe Parish Council has launched a legal challenge and a High Court judicial hearing is pencilled in for March 23.

Meanwhile, a set of emails showed how County Hall officers, in the weeks leading up to the cabinet meeting, worked to firm up the scheme's economic case.

That led to an email, from an unnamed officer, expressing concern the role of the council as highways authority could potentially be undermined.

It said: "Can we speak on this as I’m anxious this has the potential to effectively create precedent which could be seen to undermine our role as highways consultee relative to unrelated considerations that lie with the local planning authority to come to a balanced decision on."

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The email thread does not reveal whether their concern was addressed.

Environmental consultant Dr Andrew Boswell. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Green Party activist Andrew Boswell. - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

But, at a meeting of the county council's cabinet, Green Party activist Andrew Boswell called for leader Andrew Proctor to set up an investigation into possible breaches of the council's constitution and member code of conduct.

However, Mr Proctor refused and said: "What we did was something that was done between officers and members in the way that we work together."

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture: NCC

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Picture: NCC - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Just after Christmas, Ben Burgess lodged amended plans.

South Norfolk Council is unlikely to discuss the application until after the judicial review hearing.