Call for resignations over flawed Norfolk homes blueprint

A High Court judge has ordered that part of a controversial blueprint for 37,000 new homes in the Norwich area will have to go back out for consultation.

As a result of the ruling, planners will be forced to look again at their strategy for growth in an area to the north east of Norwich, where 9,000 homes are earmarked in places such as Rackheath, Sprowston, Old Catton and Thorpe St Andrew.

Following a legal challenge by campaigners, Mr Justice Ouseley last week ruled the blueprint, known as the Joint Core Strategy, which is supposed to map out where homes and jobs will be created between now and 2026, was unlawful.

And yesterday, he ordered that the housing strategy for Broadland which is contained in the strategy, needs to be reconsidered.

It will take between 12 and 18 months for the Greater Norwich Development Partnership - made up of Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk Councils - to reconsult.

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While council leaders have been quick to stress only the Broadland section of the strategy will need to be reconsidered, the campaigners who successfully challenged it have said heads should roll because of the flawed blueprint.

Andrew Proctor, chairman of the GNDP, said: 'The majority of the JCS remains intact, unaffected by the judge's decision and the local councils will now take steps to prepare a revised sustainability appraisal to explain how the process by which the north-east growth triangle, as the only major growth location in the district, was chosen.

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'The sustainability appraisal will also consider reasonable alternative growth locations to the north east growth triangle.

'The judgment has no effect on the Northern Distributor Road or housing numbers outside of the parts of Broadland in the Norwich policy area. Growth in Norwich and South Norfolk is unaffected by the decision.

'We accept the judge's decision and will immediately start the process of plugging the small gap in the JCS which has resulted from this decision.'

But campaigner Stephen Heard, from Salhouse, who had led the legal challenge on behalf of campaign group Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB), said the judge's decision was a major blow to a flawed strategy and there should be resignations.

He said: 'It's reprehensible that they went forward with this because we were telling them in 2009 that it was flawed. They could have stopped it, but instead they have wasted probably about a quarter of a million pounds of taxpayers' money, money which could have been saved if they had listened to campaigners.

'They assumed that Joe Public would not bother to challenge them, but Joe Public did and we have given them a bloody nose.

'This is the time to call for resignations, The GNDP should be closed and they should go back to local planning, rather than working on top-down figures.

'They cannot now fob us off with a botched plan which does not consider the alternatives. We are not against development, but we did not want it in the area they said it should be.'

The judge refused the councils permission to appeal against his decision last week, ruling that an appeal would have no reasonable prospects of success.

And he ordered the councils to pay Mr Heard's legal costs on the ground on which he succeeded, to be assessed later by a costs judge if those costs cannot be agreed between the parties.

Mr Heard criticised the councils for seeking to argue that he should receive less than �30,000 and said he would still need to raise about �20,000 himself to cover his costs.

The councils will have to pay their own legal bills on top of that - likely to run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Mr Heard had, last week, succeeded in his challenge that the document had not complied with legal directives, in that the councils failed to properly explain how they had considered potential alternatives to the housing strategy mapped out in the strategy.

A second point, that the NDR – a 'fundamental' part of the plan – or alternatives to it had not been environmentally assessed, failed.

David Merson, a planning lawyer at Steeles Law, based in Whiting Road, Norwich, described the judge's ruling as 'elegant'.

He said: 'It effectively sidesteps the potential for planning chaos which might have risen, because without firm and appropriate policy in place, what you end up with planning being dealt with on a case by case basis, which can lead to planning by appeal.

'But I think this judgement is an elegant solution which avoids the potential for such chaos, by only referring back a very specific part of it, rather than the entire strategy.'

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