The way has been cleared for 37,000 homes and 27,000 jobs in and around Norwich in the next 15 years after a controversial blueprint for growth was given the green light by planning inspectors.
Years of debate over what is known as the joint core strategy for Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk will culminate today in the document being deemed sound by government inspectors, which opens the way for developments such as the eco-town at Rackheath and the Long Stratton bypass.
To the relief of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) - a partnership of Norwich, Broadland, South Norfolk and Norfolk councils and the Broads Authority - inspectors Roy Foster and Mike Fox will rule the document is sound.
That means a framework will soon be in place against which future planning applications can be assessed. Developers who want to build homes in areas outlined in the blueprint will stand more chance of success - and those trying to build elsewhere are less likely to get permission.
Council bosses hailed the blueprint as vital to future jobs, homes and economic prosperity at a time when the population of the county is growing.
Steve Morphew, Norwich City Council leader, said: “Official approval for this historic blueprint for jobs, homes and future prosperity gives confidence to us all. “The common goal is to enhance the quality of life for this and future generations who live in the city and around, with plans for more homes going arm in arm with the jobs and services communities need to thrive. This should mean the end of developer and expediency-driven development and growth.”
The news will disappoint critics who fear it will lead to urban sprawl from Norwich, with villages swamped by new homes.
They had hoped if the scheme had been found unsound it would deliver a knock-out blow to proposals for the controversial Northern Distributor Road (NDR), which is currently in funding limbo.
But the inspectors said: “The authorities have seized the initiative, risen to the challenges presented by the demographic forecasts for the area and made a proactive response which recognises the scale of the issues. The joint core strategy sets out a sound long-term strategy for this growth and the GNDP position on this issue is worthy of support.”
The inspectors did insist on a dozen changes. One of the most significant is for contingency plans for if the NDR, seen by the GNDP as key to development to the north-east of Norwich, is not built.
They said the document needed to include acknowledgement that some development in the north-east growth triangle could take place before that road is built - though the road is “fundamental” to the “full implementation” of the blueprint.
And they said if it becomes clear there was no possibility of the NDR being built, a review of the blueprint’s proposals for the north-east growth triangle would be triggered - which would have implications for new homes in Sprowston, Old Catton, Thorpe St Andrew and the proposed eco-town at Rackheath.
Another significant change is that developers would only have to provide a 33pc target of affordable homes on larger sites (16 homes or more), rather than the 40pc the partnership was seeking.
Leaders of the four local authorities in the GNDP will be asked to recommend to their councils that the strategy, with the inspectors’ changes, is adopted.
Simon Woodbridge, Broadland District Council leader, said: “We now have a robust joint core strategy that will serve residents and businesses and will attract investment into the Greater Norwich area. It will ensure development is sustainable and can provide jobs, homes and prosperity for Broadland, South Norfolk and Norwich.”
With the GNDP having been criticised for holding meetings during the evolution of the blueprint behind closed doors, the inspectors said they had been legally compliant.
But they added: “It may be that improvements could have been made, especially with the benefit of hindsight”. Future meetings about how the blueprint will be delivered will be in public.
GNDP bosses stressed homes will not spring up overnight, but that it will take many years for all the developments to go through the planning channels. A community infrastructure levy will raise money for roads, schools, open space and other facilities where homes and jobs are created.
With Labour’s regional spatial strategy – targets for how many homes need to be built – scrapped by the coalition government and question-marks over the future of the NDR, critics, such as the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of Thorpe Woodlands and Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, had called for the plan to be withdrawn.