Norfolk business bosses hail planned Northern Distributor Road for Norwich
Business bosses have hailed the northern distributor road as 'the single most important road improvement in Norfolk', set to generate a �1.3bn boost to the county's economy.
But critics say it is a road to nowhere which will concrete over swathes of countryside and is little more than an outdated vanity project for council bosses.
A fresh bid has been submitted by Norfolk County Council to convince the government that the NDR is worth pumping millions of pounds into and the public have their chance to let civil servants know what they think of the proposed �112.5m project.
The NDR was originally conceived as linking all the way from Postwick to the A1067 to the west of the city, but has been scaled back.
The current proposal is for 14km of dual carriageway stretching from the A140 at Norwich International Airport to Postwick.
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The scheme had been given 'programme entry' status by the Department for Transport two years ago but when the coalition government took over, a review of road schemes meant it had to go back into a 'development pool'.
That means it is competing for a share of �630m with more than 40 other projects around the country.
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The county council's new submission to secure that cash highlights how the road is 'key' to enabling 37,000 new homes to be built and 27,000 new jobs created in and around Norwich, while unlocking growth of �1.3bn.
They say it will enable a package of transport improvements in Norwich, including rapid bus transit schemes, while enouraging growth in areas such as North Walsham and Aylsham.
The council is calling for the Department for Transport to award �67.5m, on top of �19m already earmarked from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the so-called Postwick Hub – changes to the junction at the A47 which is effectively the gateway for the NDR.
The council intends to make up the total cost by borrowing �22m, with the rest of the cash coming from growth point cash.
Council bosses still hope that at a future stage a further stretch can be built connecting through to the A1067.
And business leaders around Norfolk, including some of the biggest employers in the county, have backed the call for the government to fund the NDR.
A spokesman for insurance company Aviva said: 'We think the addition of this new route will not only benefit Aviva staff but all those based at Broadland Business Park who regularly travel into work through the north of the city.'
Andrew Bell, chief executive of Norwich International Airport, said if the NDR was not built it would jeopardise future expansion.
He said: 'The development potential for the airport encompasses not only passenger connectivity to and from a relatively isolated yet economically productive region of the UK, but also the chance to attract and retain world class businesses that operate in the oil and gas and wider energy sector, the maintenance repair and overhaul sector and the general aviation industry.
'There is no doubt that the momentum provided by the aiport's current activities is acting as a catalyst for further development. 'This further development is, however, in jeopardy without the necessary regional infrastructure to support it. The NDR is one of the key pieces of infrastructure that will unlock this potential, providing economic growth, employment and skills training to the city and the wider region.'
One of Norfolk's fastest-growing industries, and one tipped to expand even more in the years ahead is the energy sector.
John Best, chief executive of the East of England Energy Group which represents more than 350 businesses in the energy sector, said: 'The construction of the northern distributor road is the single most important road improvement in Norfolk. It will offer considerable benefits to the industry and we therefore offer our wholehearted support.
'It's a lifeline for the sector in terms of travel to and from the airport. For every minute you have vehicles, equipment and people held up in traffic jams that's a blow to our sector's efficiencies.'
Kevin Ovenden, group finance director of Acteon Group, which services the offshore oil and gas industry, agreed. He said: 'We have significant interests in both Norwich and Great Yarmouth and we believe that access within and between these areas would be greatly improved by the NDR.
'We also believe that Norwich as a city will be greatly improved by the creation of a new route which will reduce the burden on the existing inner and outer ring-roads which, on the north side, are frequently very congested with traffic.'
The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and the recently-formed New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Norfolk and Suffolk have also backed the bid.
LEP chairman Andy Wood, also chief executive of Adnams, said it would help realise 'substantial economic growth' in the region and described it as 'the key driver' for the economic growth of Norwich and the region as a whole.
And Graham Plant, county council cabinet member for planning and transportation, says the case for the road, which the council has spent the past decade working up, has been well made.
He said: 'Transport is not an end in itself, and the NDR is critical to Norwich's future economic success. Improvements in the city centre will allow the growth of business and jobs, but the NDR will also provide direct access to key employment sites at the airport and at Broadland Business Park, creating in total around 12,000 jobs and over �1.3bn in economic benefits.'
But the road has vociferous critics. More than 10,000 cards are being delivered to homes by the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, in conjunction with the Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk, Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) and Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth.
Those cards urge people to send a message to Norman Baker, parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport, urging him to stop this 'devastating' road from being built.
They argue it will not ease congestion, but encourage more drivers to take to their cars.
They say the county council has not properly tested alternatives to the NDR and that it will divert money from more sustainable transport measures.
Denise Carlo, from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group (NNTAG), said: 'Millions of pounds of public money have been spent whilst the council slashed rural bus services, cut park and ride facilities, axed Norwich bus station travel information desk and delayed many local road safety schemes.
'On top of this, the council aims to make an early grab for additional money for this road from the new local Community Infrastructure Fund, delaying, and even preventing, other essential community infrastructure such as schools.
'This is despite all the major developers saying that future growth in and around Norwich doesn't depend on this road and Postwick Hub.
'It comes down to many people having to suffer the severe loss of valued services, whilst the council continues with this outdated vanity project.'
At the public examination into the Joint Core Strategy, a blueprint for where homes and jobs will be created over the next 15 years, a number of developers said they could build homes without the NDR.
And David Merrick, director (development) at estate agents Savills, said there were other priorities which would boost the region more than the NDR.
He said: 'I would put broadband above anything – broadband is right up there in my book in terms of being an economic driver and the ability to do business. I was in Holt recently and you couldn't even get a mobile phone signal.
'The county should be thinking about the south and west of Norwich in terms of its ability to be able to absorb more economic growth. Even with the NDR people want to be at the front door.
'It's all about the run down to the A11 and investment in that would be just as important. The shame of the NDR is that it's simply money on one project.'
However, the county council argues the NDR will help deliver new homes and jobs in a properly phased way, and not leave the area vulnerable to developers making speculative applications without proper infrastructure being in place.
The public has an opportunity to comment on the bid until October 14. Comments can be made to the DfT by emailing email@example.com