Paused blueprint for transport in Norfolk revealed - and blasted by critics

Fakenham Road where the proposed Western Link route would join just before the roundabout. Picture:

Norfolk County Council remains committed to the Western Link in its Local Transport Plan. - Credit: Danielle Booden

A blueprint for future Norfolk transport schemes, previously pulled at the eleventh hour, has been republished - and blasted by critics for the impact they say it will have on the environment.

The Western Link protest at the Norfolk Showground on the day a decision will be made. Picture: Neil

The Western Link has attracted opposition. - Credit: Neil Didsbury

Critics say, despite a pause, the Norfolk Local Transport plan, still does not demonstrate how carbon emissions would be reduced over the next 15 years.

The plan had been due to be approved by Norfolk County Council in September, but the government's decarbonisation plan, published in July, meant it was withdrawn.

After revisions were made, it will now come before the county council for adoption this month.

But officers and council leaders admit the plan is fundamentally the same as before it was withdrawn, with only a few changes.

Those changes include acknowledging the government's decarbonisation plan and the council's recently approved electric vehicle strategy.

David Cumming, strategic transport manager at Norfolk County Council, said: "It's fair to say the changes do not alter the substance of the plan."

Officers also stressed the plan had not been pulled due to "legal errors", but because of the timing of the decarbonisation announcement.

The plan outlines transport schemes to improve highways, encourage walking, cycling, bus and rail use and deliver major projects like the Norwich Western Link, Long Stratton bypass and Great Yarmouth's third river crossing.

Green councillors had hoped the reworked document would include information on predicted carbon emissions from each project.

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But council officers said that information will form part of the associated implementation plan - not due to be approved until autumn next year.

Mr Cumming said the plan includes a strategic environmental assessment, while the later implementation plan would take into account national targets, lifetime carbon emissions from the schemes and outline quantifiable carbon reductions.

The council has set a target to work towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and officers say the Local Transport Plan works towards that by encouraging a shift to public transport, walking and cycling.

Martin Wilby

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure. - Credit: Denise Bradley

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, said the plan was a "positive one".

He said: "Taking out the Western Link was never a consideration. We are still on target for construction to start in 2023 and completion in 2025.

"This transport plan is another of the very real actions we’re taking as a county council that will make a difference and support our ambitious pledge to achieve net zero carbon by 2030."

Councillor Emma Corlett

Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Archant

But Labour deputy leader Emma Corlett said: "There is a lack of evidence about how this plan will reduce carbon emissions from transport.

"The Tories still haven't grasped that road-building fuels traffic growth and car-based patterns of development.

"The Western Link will blow out of the water any benefit from ideas in the proposals and it will be outrageous if the government find £50m per mile to bulldoze ancient woodland."

Jamie Osborn, Green city and county councillor.

Green county councillor Jamie Osborn. - Credit: Jamie Osborn

Green county councillor Jamie Osborn said: "Green councillors have had concerns about this since the very start.

"A change in approach away from road building is what is needed, towards public transport and active travel.

"I think the Conservative administration is in a bind, because they are committed to building roads and that is where their political heart is. But they cannot square that with decarbonisation."

Analysis

Eyebrows were raised when the Norfolk Local Transport Plan was pulled from September's meeting of Norfolk County Council.

This is a major document for the council - and the county - detailing the transport schemes the authority wants to make happen over the next 15 years.

When it was pulled, that was hailed as a win by Green councillors, who have long questioned the council's evidence around carbon emissions.

Major schemes like the Norwich Western Link and the Long Stratton bypass are contained in the plan, along with mooted improvements for walking, cycling and public transport.

The revised document is not the major revamp some council critics had hoped they would see.

Officers acknowledge it remains fundamentally unchanged from what went before, so critics will continue to question how building new roads fits with decarbonisation.

But those who support such schemes will welcome that the plan's adoption is moving a step nearer.

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