Councillors clash over Western Link road scheme
A controversial £200 million road scheme near Norwich will have meaningful benefits for West Norfolk if it gets the go-ahead today, a county councillor has claimed.
Campaigners against the Western Link project have already raised thousands of pounds towards legal action against the county council if it is allowed to proceed.
But the project, which would join the A47 to the A1270 Broadland Northway, is likely to get the go-ahead during two special meetings taking place at the Norfolk Showground on Monday.
And Swaffham division councillor Ed Colman says the advantages for this area are greater than faster journeys to the Broads or Norwich Airport, even though it is estimated some journey times could be at least halved.
He said: “The Western Link will make it easier for commuters and leisure travellers to get around.
“The road has clear economic benefits, which will be felt county-wide with Norfolk becoming a better connected place for potential inward investors looking to bring new jobs.
“With 85 per cent of the funding set to come from the Department for Transport, a total of £168m, we are showing we can leverage money into the County and that cementing Norfolk’s place as somewhere people are proud to live, learn and work.”
But Green Party borough councillor Michael de Whalley believes the cost of the project will make existing service problems even worse.
He said yesterday: “The Western Link is an outdated and retrograde project, with ballooning costs and a huge environmental impact that has no place in today’s society.
“The money thrown at this insane road could and should be propping up the many services Norfolk County Council is currently failing to deliver adequately and felt most painfully here in West Norfolk.”
One of the key arguments against the scheme is the potential environmental impact on the River Wensum and nearby bat colonies.
The Ringland Hills through which it will pass is considered some of the prettiest countryside in Norfolk
This week, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England called for the scheme to be scrapped, warning of the potential for legal challenges.
And a Crowdfunder launched by the Stop the Wensum Link campaign group has already raised more than £6,000 to fund legal costs.
The council says its aim is to ensure that “all applicable habitats for wildlife in a measurably better state than before construction” and argues that is likely to be a formal requirement if building work begins, because of the passage of new environmental legislation through Parliament.
But objectors claim that mitigation measures introduced as part of the Broadland Northway scheme have failed to protect bat colonies there.
David Pett, from the group, said: “This road has no national significance. It’s a road to nowhere, a road with no point.
“It’s all about easing some minor rat running. Nothing depends upon it being built, no businesses, no jobs, no development, no move to a zero-carbon economy.”
Protests are being planned outside the Showground on Monday ahead of the meetings, where submission of a formal business case to the government and the award of a tender to build the road are due to be considered.
Meanwhile, a group of scientists and academics have made a formal complaint to the council about their handling of ecological evidence contradicting its position.
In a 39 page letter document, published as part of the agenda papers for Monday’s meeting, they said: “Trustworthy and legitimate decisions cannot be taken on June 7th, without all councillors being fully briefed and aware of all the ecological evidence.”