Tiny snails could hold up dualling of A47 Acle Straight
- Credit: PAUL STERRY/Nature Photographers
Tiny snails, with shells less than a fifth of an inch in diameter, are revealed today as holding the key over whether the A47 Acle Straight can ever be dualled.
Government officers are ready to carry out a relocation of the molluscs in an experiment which, if successful, could help pave the way for the long-awaited dualling - although it will take three years before the results of the trial are known.
The dykes around the road are one of the few habitats of the Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail - which is on an international 'red list' of endangered species.
Until now the presence of the gastropods, of which no living colonies have been found outside East Anglia and Sussex since the 1980s, has been a major obstacle to work on the road.
However, a ground-breaking agreement between Highways England, Natural England and local landowners will mean that, this summer, a trial will be carried out to relocate some of the snails.
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The effect of that move will be monitored between 2016 and 2018 and, if experts deem that the snails are thriving in their new home, then it could open the door to the dualling.
Toby Coke, chairman of Norfolk County Council's environment, development and transport committee, said: 'Highways England are working with the county council on a number of potential schemes, one of which is the dualling of the Acle Straight.
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'Highways England have been successful in agreeing with landowners and other statutory bodies a trial relating to habitats in the dykes along the road.
'If the removal of the snails to another location is successful, it would be a welcome step forward in achieving the dualling of the Acle Straight.
'However, although this would be a positive development, nobody should be in any doubt that the shared ambition of having a dualled Acle Straight won't become a reality without substantial injection of funding from the government.'
A Highways England spokeswoman confirmed: '?We're in the very early stages of assessing whether protected species can survive elsewhere in the Acle Straight area.'
But she added: 'The A47 Feasibility Study, published in March 2015, has not highlighted a significant congestion problem on the A47 Acle Straight currently.?'
Last December, prime minister David Cameron made a pre-election pledge that a Conservative government would spend £300m on improvements to the A47, although dualling the Acle Straight was not on the list of earmarked work.
However, Highways England has started initial development on the first phases of the schemes on the A47 which the government has given the green light to.
But it could be the end of the decade before those projects, including the Vauxhall Roundabout at Great Yarmouth, the Thickthorn Junction between Hethersett and Norwich and dualling the stretches from Blofield to Burlingham and North Tuddenham to Easton happen.
While they have agreed to assess whether some of the schemes could be done sooner, whether they can be will not become clear until after the initial studies are completed in October. Either way, there will be consultation on the schemes next spring.
And some safety improvements to the Acle Straight are timetabled in for next February, at Paddys Loke, the Halvergate junction and on the westbound approach to the roundabout at Acle.
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