Decision day over preferred route for Western Link to connect NDR to A47
PUBLISHED: 07:53 15 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:53 15 July 2019
The owners of woodland which would be chopped down to make way for the controversial Western Link say the road is not worth destroying vital habitats for.
Norfolk County Council's cabinet will today (Monday, July 15) decide on the preferred route for the road, which would connect the A1067 to the A47.
Officers have recommended that councillors decide on Option C. It would cost £153m and run for 3.9 miles, including on a viaduct over the Wensum Valley.
It would go from the A1067 Fakenham Road, between Weston Longville and Ringland, linking to the A47 at a new junction at Wood Lane, near Honingham.
Council bosses acknowledge it would lead to woodland loss. And owners of that woodland are fighting to stop its destruction.
Iain Robinson, a lecturer in creative writing and literature at the University of East Anglia, bought three acres of woodland near Ringland in 2015.
He and his family, including daughters Miranda, 12, and Matilda, 8, are regular visitors to the woodland, where they unwind and discover nature.
But the road would cut through his Wandsum Wood, where 150-year-old oaks grow among sycamores, beeches and sweet chestnuts.
He said: "Destroying this woodland is incompatible with being a good custodian of the planet for our children's future."
Mr Robinson's wildlife cameras have captured footage of badgers and deer, including a fawn with its mother,
He said it is also home to bats, buzzards, sparrowhawk, hares, rabbits and owls, while oak trees support hundreds of different species of insects.
The council has said it would plant new trees, create new habitats and aim to achieve biodiversity net gain.
But Mr Robinson was not convinced, especially as ecology surveys remain unfinished.
He said: "For even one of those trees to be lost is a huge loss of habitat. It takes hundreds of years for a woodland to properly establish itself. Simply planting one tree for every one which is lost, or even two trees jut doesn't cut it.
"It's simply seeing woodland as trees, but this is the home of so many different species and it would take a long time for a woodland to establish that home."
He appealed to the council to delay making a decision and to come up with a more sustainable transport package.
Solicitor Simon Flett, who lives in Earlham Road in Norwich, is part of a syndicate of six people who own St Peter's Wood.
While the road would not pass directly through his land, he said the woodland would be ruined through its proximity to the Western Link.
He said: "It's going to blight the Wensum Valley. To think of it being brought right through this beautiful part of the Norwich landscape is just sad.
"The gain, in terms of the saving of travel time, is not worth the price to be paid."
But the council's Conservative cabinet is likely to agree the preferred route today - although funding and planning permission would still need to be secured.
A spokeswoman for Norfolk County Council said: "We understand people have concerns about the impact the road could have on wildlife in the area and this is something we're taking very seriously.
"Biodiversity net gain isn't a vague term, it's assessed against national Defra criteria to ensure that, overall, habitats for wildlife are left in a measurably better state than before construction began.
"We have ecologists working on the project who will assess the condition of the habitats likely to be impacted by the Norwich Western Link and they'll use the Defra criteria to assess biodiversity loss and then devise a compensation strategy in consultation with local wildlife groups."
She said the ecology surveys would continue right up to the submission for planning permission.
She said the council had written to landowners who would be affected a number of times and said: "Once we have a preferred route, we will write to the landowners directly affected and offer a meeting to explain the implications of the decision for them and their property."
But for Tom Wells, whose woodland would be bisected by the road, it is irreplaceable. He said: "Even in our small patch we've got 18 oak trees, plus two or three across the entrance which would have to go and they are at least 100 years old, so planting new ones just won't do. It's crazy."
Climate campaigners plan protest
Climate change campaigners Extinction Rebellion intend to stage a demonstration at County Hall in protest at Norfolk County Council's commitment to the Western Link.
The group, which occupied the council chamber in protest against the road at a previous meeting in February, which led to arrests, say they will conduct a "colourful and peaceful" demonstration.
The group says the road will increase carbon emissions by as much as 20pc, just as the government's committee on climate change as recommended a reduction of 44pc between 2016 and 2030.
Norwich spokesperson Amy Wilson said: "How can Norwich County Council continue to act so recklessly with our environment and with the delicate ecosystem of the Wensum Valley?
"We urge councillors to step up, to be more courageous and not just continue with business as usual."
The meeting at County Hall starts at 10am.
Support for the road
The Western Link would improve travel times, ease congestion, stop rat-running and support economic growth, according to Norfolk County Council leaders.
The council says there is strong support from the public, the business community, emergency services, local councils and MPs for a link road to be created.
They say Option C, one of four options consulted on and the second most popular option among the public (behind Option D nearer the city) offered the best balance in terms of environmental impact, value for money, support, transport benefits and impact on local communities.
Supporters include the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, Norwich Airport, Norfolk Constabulary, Norfolk Fire and Rescue, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Road Haulage Association, First buses, Konectbus and city and district councils.
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