Government ignored its own policy to give Norwich’s Northern Distributor Road an extra £10m of taxpayers’ cash
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
An extra £10m was given for Norwich's northern distributor relief road (NDR) against 'firm' government policy in order to avoid further delays to the project, it has today emerged.
Internal Department for Transport (DfT) emails, sent ahead of funding approval for the scheme, have been released under Freedom of Information legislation, and reveal the decision went against strict procedure.
Campaigners have criticised the lack of scrutiny over the decision and said there was 'no justification' for the rise in costs.
Development consent had been given in June, but the next month Norfolk County Council returned with revised costs.
An additional £10m of government funding was approved in September despite warnings from advisers within the DfT.
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A further £19.9m was provided by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Norfolk County Council to cover the 'concerning' rise in costs.
'Even if ministers wished to provide the money, we do not have it,' one DfT adviser wrote on July 17. Yet just four months later funding was approved.
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'Although the funding requested in this case is of a scale that we could probably find 'down the back of the sofa' if we really had to, I don't think that's a viable option and would create a precedent that we could not afford to continue,' the adviser concluded.
Concerns were also raised over the basis for the almost £30m rise in costs between 2013 and 2015.
The application from Norfolk County Council to the DfT for extra funding on July 17 said the cost increase was 'a consequence of significant construction inflation'.
The council went on to say 'the increase... jeopardises the delivery of the project, but more importantly the delivery of growth.
'This could risk the delivery of a significant proportion of the 8,000 homes in the north-east growth triangle.'
Emails from advisers to transport minister Andrew Jones ahead of full approval of the scheme in November allowed scope for an investigation into the extra cost, which was not carried out.
'If you wish we could delay the approval and investigate the reasons behind the higher cost,' advisers wrote.
'This would undoubtedly delay the scheme by some months.
'The delay is likely to mean that any revised cost may well be no lower and could be even higher.
'While the sizeable cost increase is of concern, the value for money of the scheme is still very high.'
The DfT has since said the additional funding was provided to Norfolk County Council 'given the importance of the scheme for the area'.
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