635: Norwich bypass gets go-ahead
Today’s entry reports on the latest decision on a nationally significant infrastructure project.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Transport issued his first decision since the election, to grant consent for the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR).
That’s the 38th decision on a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) and the 37th positive one.
Incidentally, the one that wasn’t positive, for the Preesall gas storage project that was overturned in the High Court, is being reconsidered but won’t be decided by the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd. Although press reports say that this is because her brother, Roland Rudd, is chairman of PR company Finsbury, who are acting for its promoter Halite, in fact all decisions on NSIP applications are to be taken by Lord Bourne, junior minister in the department (as he has responsiblity for planning, although the other junior minister Andrea Leadsom is responsible for ‘new energy infrastructure’). Upon looking into this I discovered that Amber Rudd is the ex-wife of A. A. Gill. Small world.
Back to the NDR. Here are the facts and figures.
- project: a new 20km dual carriageway north of Norwich
- promoter: Norfolk County Council;
- application made: 7 January 2014, the first one made that year;
- one inspector – Elizabeth Hill, at first, but she was later replaced by Peter Robottom, David Richards and Austin Smyth three weeks into the examination;
- 1191 relevant representations, a high number;
- 122 written representations, high;
- 136 questions in the first round – about average;
- four open floor hearings, five compulsory acquisition hearings and six issue-specific hearings, a high number;
- two Local Impact Reports, from Breckland on its own and a joint one between Broadland, the Norfolk Broads Authority, Norwich, South Norfolk and promoter Norfolk;
- examination exactly six months, recommendation exactly three months, decision exactly three months – yesterday was the first anniversary of the preliminary meeting;
- 511 days from application to decision, i.e. just under 17 months, about average; and
- 747 documents on the Planning Inspectorate web page on the date of the decision (not including the relevant representations), a high number.
Of interest, this was the first and so far only project to have extended its compulsory purchase powers during the application, which invokes a mini-application process under the regulations. The examination was nevertheless fitted into six months.
At paragraph 44 of the decision letter, it is confirmed that as of 1 April, land belonging to Highways England (i.e. when it stopped being the Highways Agency) no longer counts as Crown land.
Some of the drafting of compulsory acquisition provisions in the development consent order (DCO) was removed as it was duplicated.
There is a novel way to describe the limits of deviation in the DCO at article 5 – a five-page table sets out the limits, mainly the upward limit.
The government didn’t like a 24-hour gap between the change in classification of a highway from a B road to an A road and closed it.
The government did not allow a power to fell and lop trees outside the order limits, saying it was not necessary and there were insufficient safeguards, so don’t assume this will be granted for your project.
The government cited the benefit cost ratio in support of the project (paragraph 15), the first time I had seen that – will it start a trend?
Having said that I think the decision letter has too high a test for approving the scheme at paragraph 57. A compelling case in public interest is the test for compulsory acquisition only, not the whole project, which is only that it is in line with the relevant National Policy Statement and its adverse impacts do not outweigh its benefits. That would only have been a problem had the project been held not to meet the test.
Next up is a biggie – the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, which will be decided by (or on behalf of) Lord Bourne no later than 10 June.
3 June 2015