Fears Ukraine war could see £198m Western Link bill rise

Norwich NDR Western Link revised route

An indication of how the route of the Norwich Western Link will need to change to avoid roosting maternity bats. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Council bosses have been warned that rising construction costs sparked by the war in Ukraine risk tipping the bill for the proposed Western Link road "off a cliff".

Norfolk County Council wants to build the road - to connect the A1067 Fakenham Road to the A47 to the west of Norwich - but officials have conceded that prices for roadbuilding materials are currently "very hot" as a result of the conflict.

There are fears this will mean the £198m current estimate for the 3.9 mile road - which was already likely to rise as a result of an enforced route change - could spiral even more.

Tom McCabe, the council's head of paid service, told a County Hall meeting on Wednesday (May 25) that the cost of asphalt had gone up by 5pc in the space of just a month.

He said there were "significant pressures" on the costs of other materials produced in Eastern Europe.

The cost of steel has also increased in recent months, with a 25pc leap in March.

Norfolk County Council is currently waiting to hear whether the government will agree the authority's business case for the road, and fund some £168m of the current £198m cost.

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A paper revealing how the road's route would need to be realigned to avoid protected bats - and how much that would add to the bill - was due to go before the Conservative-controlled cabinet next month.

But that has been delayed because officers have yet to complete all the work required.

Amid rising costs of materials, some road schemes in other parts of the country - such as a link road in Cumbria - have been delayed.

Councillor Emma Corlett

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

Emma Corlett, deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, asked about the increased costs at the meeting of the infrastructure and development select committee.

Tom McCabe. Photo: Supplied

Tom McCabe, head of paid service at Norfolk County Council - Credit: Supplied

Mr McCabe said: "We will have to acknowledge the construction industry is very hot at the moment.

"But, of all industries, the construction industry is perhaps the most cyclical.

"There will come a point where demand will reduce and its about how we best plot a course through that."

Afterwards, Ms Corlett said: "The costs of construction has rocketed since the county council submitted the Western Link outline business case.

"Even if government agree to fund the original amount requested the council is at very real risk of having to plug an ever-growing gap of millions.

"That risks tipping the council off a cliff. Other councils are starting to take a much more sensible approach by pausing road building projects so that they can protect services."

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

The Western Link would connect the A47 to the Norwich Northern Distributor Road, via the A1067. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Supporters of the scheme say it will cut rat-running, speed up journey times and boost the economy.

But critics say it will encourage more car use and will damage the environment.

Vision for transport

At the same council meeting, officers said they were confident they could overcome a potential legal challenge against a blueprint for transport in Norfolk, which includes the Western Link.

The Local Transport Plan is the council's vision, for up to 2036, to improve highways, encourage walking, cycling, bus and rail use and to deliver major projects like the Western Link and Long Stratton bypass.

The select committee agreed to recommended that cabinet and full council should agree the plan at a future meeting.

South Norfolk Council member Sharon Blundell.

Sharon Blundell, Liberal Democrat councillor for Costessey - Credit: COSTESSEY TOWN COUNCIL

But, as Sharon Blundell, Liberal Democrat councillor for Costessey and a supporter of the Western Link, highlighted, there has been a suggestion of a legal challenge against the scheme.

The law firm, Leigh Day, has written to County Hall warning that Andrew Boswell, former Green county and city councillor, is on the brink of seeking a judicial review over the Local Transport Plan.

A judicial review, if it reaches that stage, would see a judge explore whether the plan is lawful.

But Vince Muspratt, the council's director of growth and development, said he was "comfortable" with the work which had been done.

He told councillors: "What I can assure you is we have taken our own legal advice at every step of the way."