North Runcton residents to vote twice in land access row

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Residents of a West Norfolk village are being asked to vote twice on whether a deal should be made with a church group on access rights.

A parish poll will take place in North Runcton later this month on whether its parish council should seek an agreement over the use of part of School Lane.

But, although it is running its own survey, which finishes tomorrow, the authority says it will still make the final decision, regardless of the results.

The dispute concerns access to land east of The Green, for which planning consent for 32 log cabins was granted by West Norfolk Council two years ago.

Since then, the land has been bought by the Seventh Day Adventist church (SDA), and discussions have taken place in a bid to secure an agreement over the use and maintenance of the section of School Lane that the parish council owns.

However, West Norfolk Council announced on Tuesday that a parish poll would take place on April 21, following a request carried at a parish meeting last Thursday.

Residents who attended that meeting say they acted after the parish council broke a pledge to arrange a poll itself.

They have called for the authority to withdraw its survey, for which forms requiring the names and addresses of participating voters, have been distributed. The results are expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Council officials say they held the survey because of the “financial implications” of the issue and to give residents a say without a parish poll, which they believe will cost around £1,000 to stage and was not budgeted for in its precept.

But opponents fear the authority could use the results of its survey to justify signing an agreement with the SDA before the parish poll takes place.

They insist the council has already budgeted for it and one of them, Lyndon Baker, has even offered to pay the bill.

He said: “A thousand pounds is but a small price to pay for transparent local democracy.”

A council spokesman said the question of whether it would complete an agreement following the its survey was “hypothetical”, and insisted it could not have handled the issue differently.

And a document published with the voting forms for its survey, stressed it would still make the final decision.

It said: “The parish council will ultimately have to decide what they feel is in the best interest of the parish as a whole.”

The document claims that, if a deal is done, the SDA would pay a £60,000 premium, plus a third of future maintenance costs, for vehicle and pedestrian access for 80 years.

It also insists the agreement would solely cover the scheme with planning permission and could only be extended through further negotiations.

But objectors say the claims are misleading and the settlement is inadequate for the extra traffic that would use the route.

They are also angry they have been prevented from seeing the proposed contract.

But the council says it has been advised it does not have to release the document under the Freedom of Information Act.