Wednesday, 21 August 2013

How to Bypass a Community

The Government has announced that the A47 Norwich Northern Distributor Road is being fast-tracked so that it could be open in less than three years.
Two interesting points here, from a heritage perspective.  First, economic development has trumped community and environmental concerns about the impact of the dual-carriageway.  The case for the road rests on the boost to the region from an improved infrastructure supporting projects such as Norfolk's emerging offshore energy industry.  The case against stresses the environmental damage that will result, including, "The impacts on bats and barn owls [which] give rise to the summary assessment score of large adverse."
What impact on 'heritage'?  Well, the Council says that, "Listed buildings are likely to be subject to only minor adverse impact related to visual and aural impacts of road building and operation. The historic parklands will suffer a greater degree of adverse impact caused by severance and road operation."  Here's the link to the full report.  
However, the impact on less obvious (and less tangible) community heritage receives little consideration.  Most obviously, there seems to have been little account taken of how local people feel about the impact of such a development on their communities.  The Business Case for the road glosses over this, noting only that the road will run close to "urban fringes typically consisting of relatively modern residential suburbs of rather uniform visual character."  Reaction from some of the affected local communities and environmentalists has been anger and dismay at the way in which economic development has trumped natural heritage and local community feeling. 
The second point is about the process of consultation.  The Government has designated the scheme as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), under the Planning Act 2008.  Section 33 of that Act states that NSIPs can go ahead without needing to go through the normal procedures for obtaining planning permission.  This has caused great consternation amongst local people, who feel that the Government is riding roughshod over their opinions and concerns.  
What substance is there to the Government's much-vaunted localism agenda, including making the planning system more democratic, when local communities are so easily bypassed?

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