Long Stratton bypass bid dead in the water

Hopes of building the Long Stratton bypass are dead in the water as council chiefs conceded there is no funding for the scheme before the planning permission runs out in June.

Hopes of building the Long Stratton bypass are dead in the water as council chiefs conceded there is no funding for the scheme before the planning permission runs out in June.

Bypass campaigners have long argued that the �35m road is crucial to cut gridlock in the village and speed up journeys along the A140 between Norwich and Ipswich.

The three mile bypass, two thirds of which would have been dual carriageway, was also seen as a key part delivering the so-called joint core strategy for thousands of new homes in and around the greater Norwich area - which includes an extra 1800 properties in Long Stratton.

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But with no public cash available in the wake of the downturn there is no way of getting the scheme started before June 22, when the five year planning permission runs out.

Norfolk County Council, which had produced the original plans, has spent �1.1m working up the scheme including on compulsory purchase costs.

But with little chance of securing enough public money to build it in the next five years, it is unwilling to spend �100,000 needed to renew the planning permissions - effectively killing the scheme in its current format.

That means that plans will have to go back to the drawing board, with officials pinning their hopes on a private developer, or even the government's Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) coming forward to provide a smaller, single lane, scheme.

Campaigners last night said they were disappointed at the news.

Bypass campaigner David Thornton said: 'It's really disappointing. If the money isn't there for a project you can raise the profile all you like and not be successful.'

But he said that campaigners will not give up, and that everything could change under a new government.

'We all need to think of different ways to push the campaign forward,' he added.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who led delegations of local campaigners to ministers to lobby for the scheme, said he hoped a private developer could be found.

'It's unrealistic in this climate to think any government is going to come forward and pay for the bypass, but if it really is the case that we've got to go back to the start then quite frankly that we have to drive a coach and horses through the planning system,' Mr Bacon said. 'I would like to think there could be a private sector solution.'

Despite the setback, John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk District Council, said he was 'bullish' on the prospects of getting a private developer to step in.

'This time last year the government was looking for oven ready projects which it could fund quickly to get the economy moving,' Mr Fuller said. 'Long Stratton bypass was ready to go.

'But for whatever reason it just isn't possible. It doesn't reduce our resolve to getting it sorted out. We are leaving no stone unturned, but it's going to be a bit more hard work.

'There is going to be much less public money available now, and a much greater share of the costs will have to be borne by the developer.

'The planning permission runs out in June and it will be too late to make a start by then,' Mr Fuller added. 'That doesn't mean that future plans cannot come forward. It's got a lot going for it, all of the policy framework is in place including the land.'

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said delivering the scheme was always going to prove difficult after the government changed its funding rules making 'local' schemes such as the bypass ineligible for regional funding.

'It's a great shame because Long Stratton needs this bypass,' Mr Gunson said. 'We've been talking to the HCA for several months, they haven't produced any money so far, and I'm not sure they will.

'It's enormously frustrating, even if it was the identified scheme that went ahead, we would still have to go through all the consultation processes,' Mr Gunson said. 'We definitely thought we would get it. We have fought long and hard to get money from the region and government and we haven't been able to get anything. I said at the time it was the death knell for local bypass schemes, and so it has proved.

The idea of a bypass in Long Stratton was first mooted as far back as 1937. In more recent times it has been a key plank of county council roads policy, securing planning permission in

Around 18,000 vehicles, currently travel through Long Stratton along the A140 every day and the bypass was expected to take around 13,000 of those out of the town.

After a preferred route was selected in 2003, planning permission was secured in February 2005. But the scheme suffered a jajor setback in June 2006 when it was not included in the new East of England Regional Assembly priority programme for funding. In 2008 South Norfolk Council sent questionnaires to 2,500 householders in the Long Stratton area asking if they would back major housing expansion in return for the bypass. But the results proved inconclusive with respondents split broadly down the middle.

There have also been concerns that the extra housing would put extra pressure on key roads and junctions along the A140 in to Norwich particularly at Harford Bridges, Ipswich Road, Lakenham and Trowse.