A High Court bid by environmentalists to block a string of major Norfolk road schemes has failed - but not before adding tens of millions of pounds to their cost.

Climate campaigner Andrew Boswell had challenged the legality of the government's decision to allow dualling of two sections of the A47 and a major revamp of Thickthorn roundabout.

But High Court judge Mrs Justice Thornton dismissed his argument that the cumulative carbon impact of the schemes had not been properly considered.

The case caused several months of delays to the projects and National Highways said this meant the final cost of the works had gone up by tens of millions of pounds, because of construction cost inflation and legal fees.

However, Dr Boswell has vowed to continue his campaign - which is supported by crowdfunding - and to appeal the decision.

Eastern Daily Press: Mrs Justice ThorntonMrs Justice Thornton (Image: Courts and Tribunals Judiciary)

The ruling is significant, not just for the A47 works but for the prospects of other roadbuilding projects, including the Norwich Western Link.

Had Dr Boswell's challenge been successful, it could have cast fresh doubt on road schemes across the country.

Eastern Daily Press: Former transport secretary Grant ShappsFormer transport secretary Grant Shapps (Image: Richard Townshend Photography)

During a two-day judicial review hearing about the A47 at the High Court in May, government barristers had said the then transport secretary Grant Shapps had used "careful consideration" and "evaluative judgement" over what the impact of all projects would be on a national, not local, scale.

Eastern Daily Press: Thickthorn roundaboutThickthorn roundabout (Image: Mike Page)

And Mrs Justice Thornton rejected Mr Boswell's argument, in the judgment handed down on Friday.

She said: "I have reached the view that whilst, in parts, unhelpfully expressed, the approach taken to the assessment of the cumulative impacts of carbon emissions does not breach the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations and was lawful."

The judicial review meant National Highways - the government company with responsibility for major A roads including the A47 - had not been able to begin construction.

Plans for Thickthorn include a new slip road off the A11 northbound, which will take motorists beneath both roads before re-joining traffic on the A47 heading towards Great Yarmouth - eliminating the need to use the roundabout.

Eastern Daily Press: Two sections of the A47 are due to be dualledTwo sections of the A47 are due to be dualled (Image: Highways England)

Just over 1.6 miles of the road between Blofield and North Burlingham - considered a crash blackspot by police - are due to be dualled.

And five-and-a-half miles of the road between Easton and North Tuddenham are due to be dualled.

The projects are intended to reduce congestion, improve safety and create an economic boost for the region.

They were originally announced in 2014, by then prime minister David Cameron, with £300m earmarked for Norfolk schemes, along with other improvements in Cambridgeshire.

Chris Griffin, from National Highways, welcomed the judgment and said new timescales for the work will now be drawn up, but that months had been lost.

The original completion date for the Blofield scheme was summer 2024; the Tuddenham upgrade was due to open to traffic in winter 2025; and the Thickthorn redevelopment was scheduled for early 2025.

Mr Griffin said: "It’s a fundamental right that people have a route to challenge the government when they feel it is necessary.

"These legal challenges have been running for almost a year now and I am very pleased with the outcome, that potentially puts us one step away from being able to break ground and start work on these important projects.

"We know from speaking to local people there is overwhelming support for these schemes, but the delays due to the legal action do come at a cost.

"That figure is tens of millions and that is a significant amount of taxpayers’ money."

Eastern Daily Press: Dr Andrew Boswell's legal challenge over the A47 schemes was dismissedDr Andrew Boswell's legal challenge over the A47 schemes was dismissed (Image: Dan Grimmer)

Former Green city and county councillor Dr Boswell, who used crowdfunding to raise money for his legal fees, said the judge had made legal errors and that he will take the matter to the Court of Appeal.

He said: "This case is extremely important as it addresses issues of pressing public importance including how the environmental impacts of new infrastructure are assessed and whether the UK can deliver its climate targets.

"I am going to the Court of Appeal to safeguard the clear and wide-ranging legal protections which do exist in UK law.

Eastern Daily Press: The A47 between Blofield and North BurlinghamThe A47 between Blofield and North Burlingham (Image: National Highways)

"The relentless drive from government and developers, in cases such as these schemes, to turn a blind eye to the true environmental impacts of the scheme in order to avoid facing up to the true climate impacts of their decisions is astonishing."

Dr Boswell added: "The climate stakes are high for us, our children and grandchildren.

"I embarked upon this legal action for future generations, and I am humbled to now be taking it to the Court of Appeal."

Eastern Daily Press: Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transportGraham Plant, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport (Image: Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk)

But Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, said: "It’s great news for Norfolk that National Highways can now get on and deliver these vital improvements to the A47."


It was back in 2014 that David Cameron, then prime minister, announced £300m would be spent on major changes to the A47 in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Just shy of a decade later and work on the Norfolk schemes - a revamp of Thickthorn roundabout, along with dualling between North Tuddenham and Easton plus Blofield to North Burlingham - has yet to begin.

That is something which has long frustrated council leaders and business bosses, with criticism that the seemingly glacial pace at which the government's roads company National Highways - previously known as Highways England - was moving.

But, last year, two transport secretaries (the government has got through a lot of them recently) granted consent for the three schemes and it looked as if work would finally get under way.

However, no sooner was the permission granted than the work was put on hold.

That is because Andrew Boswell, a climate campaigner and former Green councillor, challenged the legality of the government's decisions over those schemes in the High Court.

That is his legal right. Processes like that exist to allow members of the public to hold organisations - in this case, the government - to account.

A judge ruled his case had enough merit for the judicial review but, ultimately Mrs Justice Thornton rejected his argument that the cumulative carbon impact of the schemes had not been properly considered.

So where does that leave us? It will be interesting to see if that decision has any impact on whether the government will now throw its weight behind Norfolk County Council's Western Link project and end the uncertainty around that.

National Highways says it is keen to get on with the work, but that several months have been lost because the legal action meant construction could not get under way.

They say tens of millions have been added to the bill for those roads, with soaring construction cost inflation and the cost of legal bills.

And it might not be over yet. Dr Boswell has said he intends to appeal, saying climate change - and the contribution of roads and traffic to that - will affect future generations.

What is important is that, if there is to be a further court hearing, it must come quickly, so these issues can be considered and settled.