Fast-track for Northern Distributor Road after government deems it nationally important

The No25 Group opposed to the proposed Norwich Northern Distributor Road demonstrating outside City

The No25 Group opposed to the proposed Norwich Northern Distributor Road demonstrating outside City Hall back in 2005. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2005

Major road scheme - the Norwich Northern Distributor Road - should be fast tracked through the planning process, says the Government.

The £141.5m scheme is of national significance and should be fast tracked through the planning process transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has said - a decision welcomed by council leaders and MPs who say the road is vital to the county's economy.

But campaigners against the 19.5km road, which will stretch from the A47 at Postwick to the A1067 Fakenham Road, have criticised the government's approach.

Denise Carlo, from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, said she was 'shocked' and 'surprised'.

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'At the moment they are going through a consultation on whether the scheme should be nationally significant so now to hear this…to me it sounds totally undemocratic and I would say it's challengeable.'

The dual carriageway NDR has been on the drawing board for a decade and £86.5m towards the cost has been secured from the government.

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The council applied before Christmas for the road to be named a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project by the government, hoping that would speed up when work could start on the road.

By being dealt with that way, it means the council would not have to submit an application for it to its own planning committee and would not have to deal with side road orders for the changes to the Postwick Hub junction or compulsory purchase orders separately.

Instead, an independent inspector appointed by the planning inspectorate, would decide whether permission should be granted for all those things, with a public inquiry.

However, the government last month changed the criteria, which seemed to have scuppered the road's inclusion in that scheme.

But the Department for Transport has written to Norfolk County Council saying it should be treated as a project 'of national significance' because it provides a link from the Trans European road network (the A47) to Norwich International Airport; it supports growth - unlocking 135 hectares of land for businesses and jobs and improves connections for offshore energy companies based at Great Yarmouth.

The secretary of state's ruling was welcomed by Norfolk County Council leader George Nobbs who said it was a 'significant step' in improving Norfolk's infrastructure.

He said: 'This is recognition at the highest level of government that the NDR is essential if Norwich and a wide area of Broadland and North Norfolk is to play its full part in sustained economic recovery.

'It emphasises the importance of connection to the A47 and the Trans-European Network of strategic roads and should also signal a higher priority for improvement of the A47 itself.

'This sort of project is essential if we are to improve our economic prospects.'

David Harrison, cabinet member for environment, transport, development and waste, said: 'Clearly, we have still got to secure development approval and we are certainly not taking that for granted, but the secretary of state's decision means that there is a much better chance that the NDR will open for traffic in 2017.'

Business leaders have long backed the road which they say will boost the county's economy, with one report saying it has the potential to bring £1.3bn of investment to the county.

But critics say it would do nothing to ease congestion, is not needed to make much vaunted improvements to public transport and is merely a means to develop on countryside to the north and east of Norwich.

Opponents include the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group (NNTAG), the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth and the community campaign group SNUB (Stop Norwich Urbanisation).

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'This proposed road will help bring jobs to the area by making it easier to conduct business and get around the north of the city.

'One of the very first actions I took in Parliament as MP for Norwich North was to call for this infrastructure, as it is so important to residents and businesses to be able to get about.

'So I am pleased that Westminster recognises the importance of helping us build better transport in Norfolk. It is good for the city's economy to be another step closer in this case.'

And Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, said: 'The NDR will help to link North Norfolk to fast growing areas such as Cambridge, to jobs-hubs such as the Norwich Research Park and to vital services like the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

'I am pleased that the secretary of state has given the green light for the scheme to be treated as a nationally significant infrastructure project.'

But, with the NDR ending at the A1067 and not connecting to the A47 to the west of Norwich, because no solution could be found to take it through the Wensum Valley, critics have said it will lead to more rat-running through area such as Taverham, Costessey and the Marlpit areas.

The Liberal Democrat group at County Hall recently said a way still needs to be found for the Norwich northern distributor road to connect to the A47 in the west of the city.

The council had decided not to pursue a connection on environmental grounds, because the River Wensum, the valley of which the road would have to pass through, is designated as a special area of conservation.

But the Lib Dems, as one of 10 key policies, have called for a 'scoping report' into the viability of a 'full' NDR.

The council has already launched its pre-application public consultation on the proposals, and around 1,800 people visited a series of exhibitions that ended on Monday at Rackheath.

The development consent order application is expected to be submitted in November this year.

Last month, a public inquiry was held into the side road and slip road orders for the Postwick Hub, which is a £21m change to the junction on the A47 to the east of the city and would be a 'gateway' to the NDR.

If that does not get approved, the council will get a second chance for those orders to be confirmed as part of the inquiry into the NDR.

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