Western Link takes next step forward as business case backed
- Credit: Neil Didsbury
The outline business case for the controversial £198m Norwich Western Link road is to be lodged with the government - and a company awarded a contract to build it.
But there was dissent and protests as Norfolk County Council’s cabinet and the full council made its decisions.
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 on Monday morning.
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.
And, in the afternoon, the full council agreed to the same by 50 votes to 20, with one abstention.
A Labour motion to defer the full council decision until scrutiny committee has
investigated further and a Green one calling on the cabinet to reconsider due to a lack of evidence on issues such as carbon emissions and legal advice given was defeated.
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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 said Norfolk could also be less attractive for inward investment.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
At the full council meeting, Liberal Democrat group leader Brian Watkins said no amount of mitigation would make up for what would be lost.
Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the Labour group, said councillors should have had sight of the legal advice over the risk of planning failure over the road.
She said the council was pursuing: “The same old 1980s approach of concreting over the countryside”.
At one point, a member of the public left the cabinet meeting in tears, saying: “You’re killing us. Your children will never forgive you”.
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.