Council plan to spend rural cash on roundabout rejected

A Norfolk council has been told by Defra to rethink its plans to spend almost £1m of rural development cash on a new multimillion pound roundabout project.

Last September, Defra allocated £915,788 of funding to South Norfolk Council as part of the forthcoming Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF).

Earlier this year, the council submitted a bid to allocate all the money towards the construction of a new roundabout and access road to Hethel Engineering Centre.

It had already approved £300,000 from the council’s allocation of the Norfolk Business Rates Pool 2020-21 to support delivery of this project.

See also: Practical tips on planning applications when diversifying land

Senior council members argued the delivery of the roundabout and road network would unlock investment land at Hethel and help create up to 1,000 new jobs, as well as providing a link to the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor. 

But Defra has refused permission for South Norfolk Council to allocate all the money to the roundabout project.

It has told the council it must deliver an alternative proposal to spend the money, which more closely matches the goals of the REPF.

A spokesperson for South Norfolk Council told Farmers Weekly it was reviewing its original proposal, adding: “This revision is likely to include grant schemes to support rural SMEs and community groups with capital development projects (to include farm diversification).

“This revision will follow the same due process as the first addendum and will be published in late June subject to agreement by Defra.”

However, the council spokesperson would not comment on the details of the revised proposal, and how much of the funding it would try to allocate to the roundabout project.

Richard Rampton, an independent farm adviser from RuralAdvice, a business consultancy based near Norwich, criticised the council for attempting to spend the funding on the Hethel roundabout, arguing this was contrary to the spirit of the Defra funding allocation.

“The REPF is the only fund currently available to support diversification for farm businesses. The loss of basic payments means farmers are looking for every resource they can get and many of them are looking to diversify,” he said.