Wednesday 13 June 2012

A birthday bash, anyone?

It's my birthday today. Dev- elopment of some kind ( I hope), although what I write about today is hardly a subject for celebration. Perhaps, though, if those with the decision-making power paused for reflection, one of those famous decisions the media call a 'U-turn' could happen?

The Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) has been a hot topic for over a decade now, and, after a lot of horse-trading and amendments, it is now listed by the Department of Transport on the official list of major new roads to be built. It may well be 5 years off yet, and has yet to get planning permission, but already a casual look around the areas to the north and north-east of the City will show a surprising number of houses for sale near to the proposed route.

Probably the most shocking aspects to the proposal is the cost. If you add all the pots of money together - government, County Council, and the GNDP ( Greater Norwich Development Partnership) you get about £112 million, and you can probably safely add another 40% or so to that in reality, which is the average 'overspend' on major road schemes over the last 20 years. The County Council right now are carefully putting money aside from it's revenue budget ( estimated at around £2.5M) into what can only be described as a slush fund to build up extra reserves for the road. All this at a time when frontline services are being systematically reduced to 'save money'.

In September 2005, early on in my role as a County Councillor, this topic was so hot and so big, a special dedicated Full Council meeting was arranged over and above the regular meetings, to hear all Councillors views on the subject, and crucially, to take a vote. Of the 69 Councillors present that day, only 2 voted against the proposal - myself and my colleague, Andrew Boswell. What was also remarkable was the lack of expression or understanding of the bigger picture. Faced with a large business lobby - for many of whom the word 'infrastructure' means 'roads' - and an assumed continued growth in road traffic, this development appeared to all those present an unquestionable step to make. For the full minutes to this meeting, and a brief summary of the speech I made, look here:

So will the road ever be built? Privately, there are key planners and newer politicians around now who are saying that there are doubts. Let's hope so. There is still a long way to go, but maybe there will be true celebration - much as there has been in the past over the relinquishing of plans for new roads - when we see the area to the north-east of Norwich remain unblighted by this unnecessary road.

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