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Environmental fears raised over proposed Western Link route

PUBLISHED: 06:30 03 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:40 04 February 2020

A bat bridge on the NDR, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

A bat bridge on the NDR, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

Fresh environmental concerns have been raised over a controversial proposed new road connecting the Norwich Northern Distributor Road to the A47.

Primrose Grove, one of the county wildlife sites on the route of the proposed Western Link. Pic: Google.Primrose Grove, one of the county wildlife sites on the route of the proposed Western Link. Pic: Google.

The Norwich Western Link is proposed to join the NDR - now known as the Broadland Northway - with the A47 at Honingham.

The mooted route, which was backed by a Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council's cabinet last summer, passes through the wildlife-rich Wensum Valley.

Option C is the recommended preferred route for the Western Link. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilOption C is the recommended preferred route for the Western Link. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Norfolk Wildlife Trust says not enough is being done to protect important habitats and vulnerable species, particularly bats.

Norfolk County Council's proposal for the Norwich Western Link now include measures to create new habitat after the proposed development.

The council's cabinet will discuss the Western Link at a meeting today.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust said the region's wildlife needs established and mature habitat in order to survive.

Mike Jones, conservation officer at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: "We estimate that the western link road will include the permanent loss of between three and four hectares of woodland. The mature trees in this woodland provide features such as holes and bark gaps, which form a key roosting habitat for the local bat population. The rarity of the species present means that this woodland is likely to be of national importance.

"A new woodland planted to meet the net gain targets adopted would fail to provide replacement bat roost sites and therefore would not mitigate or compensate for the losses. This would be compounded by the disconnection of the remaining areas, leaving them more vulnerable to local extinction."

It comes as Wild Wings Ecology have set up a Crowdfunder, which has raised more than £2,000, for an independent and scientific survey into barbastelle bats in Norfolk - a rare and protected species.

The bat specialist and ecology group say the proposed Norwich Western Link road will cut through one of the few remaining strongholds for the bats, and a fair compromise needs to be reached to protect the species and the demand for travel.

This month a BBC investigation found the bat bridges designed to guide bats over the NDR and protect them from traffic do not work.

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure at Norfolk County Council, said: "The preferred route for the Norwich Western Link was chosen, in part, because it limits environmental impacts and avoids any loss of ancient woodland.

There is a great deal of demand to create this road to link the A47 to Broadland Northway but we're clear that we want to do this in an environmentally responsible way.

"We're looking into a variety of measures we could take to protect and support wildlife in the area, including creating new habitats, improving existing ones and building green bridges and underpasses to help maintain connectivity for species.

Many of these features will be designed to support bats, and in particular barbastelle bats, given the rarity of this species.

"Norfolk Wildlife Trust are a valued member of our ecology liaison group for the Norwich Western Link and we'll continue to discuss our proposals with them and consider their views and advice.

"Where possible, and in line with our recently agreed environmental policy, we're keen to work with them and other groups and organisations to protect and enhance Norfolk's environment."

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