High Court judge casts huge question mark over Norwich homes blueprint

A huge question mark has been cast over the future of a blueprint for where thousands of homes should be built in and around Norwich over the next 15 years - after a High Court judge upheld a legal challenge against it.

The lawfulness of the so-called joint core strategy (JCS), which is a framework for where 37,000 new homes in Norwich, Broadland and South Norfolk will be built, had been challenged in the High Court.

And today, Mr Justice Ouseley handed down his judgement in the Royal Courts of Justice in London - a judgement which casts doubt on the future of the strategy.

The judicial review had been sought by Salhouse campaigner Stephen Heard, from Snub (Stop Norwich Urbanisation), against Broadland District Council – one of the authorities which drew up the strategy - on two points.

One was that alternatives to the plan for growth to the north-east of Norwich, in areas such as Rackheath, were not properly explored or explained.

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The second was that the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) – a 'fundamental' part of the plan – or alternatives to it had not been environmentally assessed.

At one point during the two-day judicial review in December, Mr Justice Ouseley had likened the council's case to 'wading through treacle' and asked if the options had 'sprung fully formed from the brow of Zeus'.

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And the judge today ruled the document had not complied with legal directives, in that it had not properly demonstrated which alternatives to development to the north east of Norwich had been considered and had not shown they had been examined to the same degree as the options which did form part of the blueprint.

He did not find any issue with the second point over the NDR, which, subsequently to the judicial review, has been awarded government funding.

The judge has not stated what should happen to the joint core strategy as a result of today's judgement, with another hearing due to take place next Wednesday.

The strategy, which has been in the making since 2007 and was adopted in March, was drawn up by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) made up of Norwich City, Broadland District, South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Councils and the Broads Authority.

Mr Heard said: 'Whist we are pleased that the judge upheld our legal challenge on our first point we should never have had to be placed in a situation whereby a group of local residents had to put their lives on hold for a number of years to fight this through the courts.

'We will now take further legal advice on the next steps, which could include the quashing of the JCS.

'The campaign continues until the GNDP and the four local authorities see sense and present suitable alternatives for the public to have a view on.'

In response to Mr Justice Ouseley's ruling this morning, Greater Norwich Development Partnership chairman Andrew Proctor, chairman of the GNDP and leader of Broadland District Council, said: 'The judge has given a ruling that we need to study in detail, but it is clear that he does not challenge the scale of growth required in the Greater Norwich area and considers that the preferred growth option was properly assessed.

'He does agree that way the Joint Core Strategy was arrived at 'could not be stigmatised as unreasonable' and was subject to 'frequent public consultation.

'However, he did conclude that the Strategic Environmental Assessment we carried out did not properly explain the alternatives to the North East Growth Triangle, which became our favoured option, or examine those alternatives in the same depth.

'The judge has made it clear he is still to be persuaded on what final action to take, and we are working hard to address the issue at a second hearing to be held shortly when we will be making further submissions.'

See tomorrow's papers for more details.

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