County's new road for new homes warning

COUNTY council leaders who believe plans for housing growth in Norfolk are too ambitious issued the Government with an ultimatum last night - “Give us our road if you want more homes”.

COUNTY council leaders who believe plans for housing growth in Norfolk are too ambitious issued the Government with an ultimatum last night - “Give us our road if you want more homes”.

More than 80,000 new homes are now planned for the county, more than were previously on the table, and there is a widespread belief that it will be unable to cope, especially if the Norwich northern bypass is not built.

But with the Department for Transport still to decide whether to recommend the scheme for ministerial approval, Norfolk County Council is squaring up to the government with a blunt message that the county cannot cope with the extra homes unless the road is built.

And last night business chiefs also stressed that the road was crucial to help the county economy attract and retain thousands of new jobs.

The council's stark warning is set out in its response to a consultation by the regional assembly (Eera), which has been tasked by government with planning more housing.

Its four options for 2011-2031 range from 83,000 to 113,000 extra homes. They will be considered by the county council's planning and transport scrutiny panel on Wednesday.

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But Mike Jackson, the council's director of environment, transport and development, says in a report to the meeting that 83,000 extra homes are “unlikely to be deliverable” and 113,000 is “simply not credible”.

Meanwhile, plans for the �127m bypass, or northern distributor route (NDR) have suffered delays as the government has asked for more information about public transport alternatives. A decision is now due in December.

Adrian Gunson, county councillor for planning and transport, said: “What we are saying is without the NDR the housing growth in Broadland is not feasible because of congestion north of the city - and there is nowhere else to put it.

“The whole scheme for achieving the extra houses in the next 15-20 years would fall apart.”

But he said even with the road and other infrastructure, the level of housing was “pushing the situation to the limit”, especially in a recession. The county council is concerned about capacity in water and sewage supplies, power supply gaps, flood risks and space at high schools in market towns.

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council and chairman of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership, which covers Norwich, South Norfolk and Broadland, said the plans for housing growth were looking too far ahead, when there were already 12,000 unbuilt homes with planning permission in the greater Norwich area.

He said: “Eera is just going through the motions, because anyone can see these houses are not going to be built for the foreseeable future.”

He added: “The government needs to be told. The NDR is a critical piece of infrastructure. It will remove about 20,000 vehicles a year from passing through the city. You can then have express bus ways, cycle lanes and footpaths in Norwich.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith is writing to the transport secretary to urge him to make a speedy decision, and to ask for a meeting. She said the road was “fundamental to the city's economic prosperity”.

And she said that Norfolk should be able to make its own plans for housing growth without them being imposed from above.

Derrick Ashley, chairman of the Eera regional planning panel, said it was important to plan for more homes even if a change of government led to their being abandoned.

He said: “It is important that we plan with a longer timeframe, because these infrastructure projects to take a long time to plan and deliver. The recession will not last forever.”

He added: “The regional assembly is unanimous that to deliver the level of housing the government wants, there has to be a much bigger investment in infrastructure. My personal view is we have to spell that out; this cannot be delivered without infrastructure, and in particular transport infrastructure.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said they would consider the NDR business case, but could not comment on housing issues.