Stephen Fry calls for rethink on controversial Western Link

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry - Credit: Simon Finlay

Stephen Fry has added his support to the campaign against the controversial Norwich Western Link.

The broadcaster, who grew up in Norfolk and is known for his links to the county, is among 23 prominent local figures, climate experts and politicians to have signed an open letter organised by the Stop the Wensum Link group calling for a rethink on the proposed route.

The scheme to build the 3.9mile road that would connect the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) to the A47 west of Norwich has been beset by problems in the last year, from rising costs to consultation delays. 

The £198m project has been put forward by Norfolk County Council, which insists it will tackle existing traffic problems and help cut overall carbon emissions from vehicles.

Proposed route of the Norwich Western Link

Proposed route of the Norwich Western Link - Credit: Norfolk County Council

But the Stop The Wensum Link group is campaigning to halt the project, citing environmental and economic arguments against it.

Their new letter states: “The county is blighted by the construction of car-dependent homes which in turn fuel the need for more and more road building, a vicious circle which must be broken.  

“Norfolk is faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change direction. Let’s make sure it is not lost.” 

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As well as actor and writer Stephen Fry, other signatories include: wildlife broadcaster Chris Packham, writer Richard Mabey, UEA professors Rupert Read, Iain Barr and Catherine Rowett as well as current and former MPs Clive Lewis and Norman Lamb. 

Dr Rupert Read for byline pic

Prof Rupert Read - Credit: Archant

Their letter also criticises the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP), a set of blueprints for building more than 50,000 homes across the region over the next two decades.

The group say the GNLP targets are both unrealistic and the lack of sustainable transport options make it outdated. 

Road expansion proposals put forward in the local transport plan also drew concern from the group, which it said was “based on massive and environmentally damaging road expansion in Norfolk to 2036, with no link between transport and housing planning.”

The group calls on planners to focus on creating opportunities for more physically active and less isolated lives with less traffic.

Chris Packham protests against the HS2 high speed railway. Picture: Giles Anderson/PA Wire/PA Images

Chris Packham protests against the HS2 high speed railway. Picture: Giles Anderson/PA Wire/PA Images. - Credit: PA/Giles Anderson

It said: "There is nothing to stop Norfolk County Council maintaining a healthy local economy, and turning its attention to how this can be gained without having to be led by reliance on fossil-based transport options.

"Attaining a strong economy and ensuring good transport and housing planning are not incompatible, they just need to be linked and have at their heart action on the climate crisis."

Yesterday, Norwich City Council voted to reject plans for the Norwich Western Link.

Responding to the letter, Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport at Norfolk County Council, said: “We need a transport network in Norfolk that works for all kinds of journeys.

"This includes supporting people to walk, cycle and use public transport over shorter distances and investing in our roads to tackle existing problems with traffic congestion before they become far worse as the county’s population grows.

"This is the balanced approach the county council is taking and it is absolutely the right approach for the future of Norfolk.”

At a meeting on Wednesday, the leader of the council Andrew Proctor said the road continues to have "wide support" and that there was no evidence it had lost any backing.

Mr Proctor said 2018 assessments had shown alternatives to the road, including additional bus services, would not be as successful at reducing traffic issues.

He insisted the road would cut congestion and speed up emergency services.

A council spokeswoman said people will still be able to give their views on the environmental mitigation proposals for the project in the pre-planning application consultation.

She added the authority will take into account any responses ahead of finalising the planning application.

A date for the project being submitted to planners has not yet been announced.

The letter was signed by: 

Stephen Fry, Actor, writer, presenter 

Chris Packham, naturalist, presenter 

Richard Mabey, writer and broadcaster 

Clive Lewis, MP, Norwich South 

Dr Charlotte Packman, Director & Principal Ecologist, Wild Wings Ecology 

Dr Andrew Boswell, Environmental Consultant 

Prof. Rupert Read, UEA, author ‘Parents for a Future’ 

David Pett, solicitor for Stop the Wensum Link campaign group 

Professor Iain Barr, Professor of Field Ecology UEA 

Baroness Natalie Bennett, Green Party 

Patrick Barkham, President Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Mark Cocker, author of ‘A Claxton Diary’, winner East Anglian Book Award 2019  Prof. Catherine Rowett, UEA, former MEP 

Prof. Tim O’Riordan, President of CPRE Norfolk, Former Member of the national Sustainable  Development Commission, and former Sheriff of Norwich. 

Henry Layte, Proprietor The Bookhive, Norwich 

Cllr Lucy Galvin, Leader, Norwich City Council Green Group 

Steffan Aquarone, Norfolk County Council councillor 

Adrian Ramsay, Co-Leader of the Green Party 

Sir Norman Lamb, former MP for North Norfolk 

Emma Corlett, Deputy Leader on behalf of Norfolk County Labour Group 

Simon Barnes, author ‘How to be a Bad Birdwatcher’ 

Dr. Iain Robinson, UEA, writer and woodland owner 

Prof. Steve Waters, playwright

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