First the good news.....

 It is amazing how the Greater Norwich Development Partnership's PR company can write such positive spin following Thursday's Exploratory Meeting held by the Inspectors with GNDP to discuss aspects of their Joint Core Strategy submission.

True, the Inspectors started with some good news - they were complimentary about the presentation of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) document. However, by the end of the day it was clear that the Inspectors were far from impressed by the actual content of the JCS.  It was intended that this Exploratory Meeting would be followed immediately by the Pre-Hearing Meeting but this never happened. So many issues were raised that they would not move to the Pre-Hearing Meeting, which was scheduled to follow it.  

Instead they sent the GNDP Officers off with a wholesale list of further requests for information, some of which challenge the whole premise of the Joint Core Strategy.  These items may require further public consultation.  It now seems likely that this will not return for further consideration until September or October at the earliest and it may yet be delayed by six or nine months.

The Inspectors had already asked a number of 24 questions, to which the GNDP had responded in a paper 35 pages long.  Needless to say these answers appeared to create more questions than answers.

The claim that so many; 80 items, were critical to the delivery of this Strategy, perplexed the Inspectors.  Was it possible that they were all critical, if so why were there not options to deal with this apparent inflexibility.  The GNDP had indicated that all 80 were critical but revised this to say that they believed there was sufficient certainty to for it to be sound.  However, they were not able to reassure the inspectors since at this meeting they had submitted an extra 6 questions. 
If all these items are critical then the soundness of the JCS could be placed in jeopardy by the timing of their implementation.  

It was easy to conclude that these concerns were predominantly about the soundness of the plan.  They were not adequately answered and in fact their concerns increased as the meeting went on. The Inspectors obviously took a lot of notice of what people had said in their JCS consultation submissions and were also very attentive to the comments made by people in the audience. That this is "not a done deal" was borne out by this meeting and SNUB can take great heart and encouragement from these proceedings.

One item which was repeatedly challenged from the floor as well as by the Inspectors was about the NDR.  How critical is the NDR to development elsewhere in the GNDPA?   If is open to non-delivery why is so much dependent upon it.  Does it not question the sense of pursuing this option through the consultation process without considering other alternatives. What happens if the money is not available, is deferred or is not available in full.   All we got from the Chief of Strategic Directors, Mr Kirby was that there was no Plan B.  The Inspectors clearly believed there should be.  From our perspective this alone made the Strategy unsound.  Denise raised the issue of the side roads order and its legality and the NCC staff accepted that there would need to be a public enquiry.  It was noted that the County Council have already approved the extension to Fakenham Road and the Inspector drew attention to the letter from the Department for Transport which we have seen and in which the council is warned that if this does not go ahead then all costs are down to them.

The Inspectors clearly want to see a lot more flexibility in the planning to suit the changed economic circumstances and this is more than just a Plan B but obviously more contingency planning and apart from wanting to see flexibility they also wanted more identifiable commitment in terms of where the finance is coming from.

The Officers response to questions about funding referred constantly to the Community Infrastructure Levy.  It was going to pay for bus/train facilities (viability questioned), affordable housing and other miscellaneous good ideas.   This charge will merely penalize new house purchasers.  

The District Council has amended the Growth Triangle to a strategic development claiming it was a minor change.
The Inspectors challenged whether this could be described as a 'minor change' given the implications of the process associated with an SPD as opposed to an AAP.  The also wanted to know why the SPD should apply to the whole of the Growth area.

Rackheath came in for serious criticism.  The Inspector clearly received the impression that this was an imposed project and neither the representative from DCLG nor Kirby denied it.
They also asked about the curious arrangement whereby they planned to build from the outside in.

JCS Appendix 7 shows that Rail improvements at Rackheath are critical but the text does not.  (A green party Councillor asked where this had all come from as he was on the Bittern Line panel? and nothing had been agreed.)

The Inspector also challenged the viability of the proportions of new housing to be provided as affordable homes, citing the Drivers Jones study which showed it the plans were neither robust nor convincing.  They sought justification.

Affordable housing proposals in the JCS are not thought to be adequately explained. 

Energy efficiency should be dealt with in a more selective way than the ill defined but blanket imposition of more ambitious than national standards for implementation throughout the GNDPA.  It might be justified at Rackheath for example but why everywhere else ahead of legislation.  The County Council employee who responded to this pointed out that there was a surfeit of non renewable energy potential in Norfolk and they felt justified in their plan.  It does not however contain any detail or evidence base to show how what they propose could be achieved.  When it was pointed out from the audience that this plan would only be to Code 4, the Inspector immediately challenged the GNDP who replied that it could be Code 4,5 or 6.

The policy on Green Infrastructure does not seem to provide an integrated concept within the JCS?  Cursory examination brought up numerous flaws.

The 'viability' of the whole thing emerged as the key issue of soundness of the plan but this did not diminish other key issues on soundness such as water and water treatment and traffic impact for which the inspectors sought clarification on each subject. 

In closing the meeting the Inspector advised that there would be no point in holding the pre-hearing meeting and that would have to be deferred along with the Planning Enquiry in July.  It seemed likely that it would have to be postponed until September or October depending upon the answers to the questions which he was putting to the Partnership.  

A difficult day for the Greater Norwich Development Partnership and their lead, Phil Kirby and a couple of months of hard work ahead of them to try to persuade the Inspectors that the evidence supplied by GNDP is robust enough to allow the next stage, the Examination in Public to go ahead. This report of the Exploratory Meeting is not quite so economical with the truth as that on the GNDP’s website but gives a far better understanding for those who actually want to know what went on! The EDP's article about the meeting was also pretty brutal and also gives a far more accurate account of the proceedings than the news release on the GNDP's own website.


  1. I went to this meeting and must say that CPRE and others were critical of these proposals. On balance I would say that this is a fairer reflection of the meeting than the GNDP version but of course they have much to lose.
    BBC today were reporting the possible demise of the ECO Town plans. Since they are so conceptually flawed that would not be a bad thing.

  2. The Eastern Daily Press on Wed. 19th,page 9 also made some interesting comments about housing, the NDR/postwick hub and the ecotown.All relate to the possible withdrawal of finance and change of policy by the new government. The situation will become more clear on Monday when details of "the cuts" (£6billion) are announced.

    I also went to the planning inspectors meeting and concur with Richards comments re the spin that is being put on the reports.

  3. i need a polish transllasion for dis can only undastand fusrt vurd ples thanky Jakub

  4. Try 'Mr Sheen'