Western Link: Cabinet agrees to award contract to build £198m road

Norfolk County Council discussing the proposed Wensum Link at the Norfolk Showground on Monday.

Norfolk County Council discussing the proposed Wensum Link at the Norfolk Showground on Monday. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

The Conservative-controlled cabinet of Norfolk County Council has agreed to lodge the outline business case for the controversial £198m Norwich Western Link road - and to award a contract to build it.

Protests were held ahead of key decisions today over the future of the road.

Members of the Stop The Wensum Link group and Norwich Friends of the Earth held up placards at the entrance to the Norfolk Showground this morning (Monday, June 7).

Norfolk County Council discussing the proposed Wensum Link at the Norfolk Showground on Monday.

Norfolk County Council discussing the proposed Wensum Link at the Norfolk Showground on Monday. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

But members of the cabinet agreed to submit the outline business case for the 3.9 mile road, to connect the Northern Distributor Road to the A47 to the west of Norwich.

The council's cabinet also agreed to award a contract to build the road.

Graham Plant, deputy leader of the council said if the Western Link is not built, congestion will get worse, the building of houses and Norfolk’s economic recovery after COVID-19 may be delayed.

He says Norfolk could also be less attractive for inward investment.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Greg Peck, the council’s cabinet member for commercial services and asset management and a former chairman of the Norfolk branch of the Campaign To Protect Rural England said: “I am passionate about protecting the countryside, but that includes the people living in it.

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“Not to build the Western Link will be more harmful to the environment than to build it.”

Council leaders said the scheme will boost Norfolk's economy and cut rat-running in places such as Costessey and Weston Longville.

Businesses, including Norwich International Airport, Chantry Place and First buses support it, as do the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Norfolk Chambers of Commerce.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for adult social care, said the “silent majority’ in Norfolk wanted the road built.

But it is opposed by groups such as Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Norfolk Rivers Trust, the Campaign To Protect Rural England and The Bat Conservation Trust.

The Labour group at Norfolk County Council, along with the Greens are against it.

Questions about the scheme were tabled for the cabinet meeting by members of the public and councillors.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7.

Protesters voice their objections to the proposed Western Link road at the Norfolk Showground on Monday, June 7. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Clive Lewis, Norwich South Labour MP, was one of those who asked a public question.

He said the Western Link breaches six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and asked how it fit with Conservative pledges to put environment first.

He was referred to the written reply, that it was governments that implemented commitments arising from international treaties - usually through planning and related policies.

Green councillors Ben Price and Jamie Osborn asked questions about carbon emissions.

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, said the road will reduce carbon emissions and that the road was “needed more than ever”.

The council says it is spending £22m more on environmental mitigation, amid concerns over the presence of barbastelle bats on the route.

But at one point, a member of the public left the meeting in tears, saying: “You’re killing us. Your children will never forgive you”.

The cabinet meeting will be followed, at 2pm, by a subsequent decision to be taken by the full council.

County council meetings are currently taking place at the Norfolk Showground due to coronavirus social distancing requirements and because work on the council chamber at County Hall is continuing.

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