Analysis: The Norwich Western Link - a year of blows
- Credit: Archant
A new road connecting the A47 to west Norwich has been a controversial idea for almost 20 years.
Next week, Norwich City Council is set to formally come out against the plans for the Norwich Western Link (NWL) - a 3.9mile road that would link Northern Distributor Road (NDR) to the A47.
When the NDR was first proposed, the cost of crossing the River Wensum, a site of special scientific interest, saw the plans stop at the A1067 Fakenham Road.
However, in 2016 Norfolk County Council revived the so-called missing link, with a preferred route between Weston Longville and Ringland agreed in 2019.
Since then, costs have surged, environmental and wildlife impacts remain unknown and delays have all hit the project.
But county council bosses have stood by the scheme, saying it will bring economic benefits and ease rat-running, while they would mitigate for any environmental impact.
A series of blows have hit the project in the last year, starting with Norwich City Council withdrawing its in-principle support for the project in January 2021.
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Mike Stonard, cabinet member for inclusive and sustainable growth, said the project would have significant implications for Norfolk’s carbon emissions, its environment, traffic conditions across the city and economic activity and set out a series of criteria.
Despite the already ballooning costs, which rose from £153m to £198m in May 2021, Norfolk County Council said in October that it was too soon to say whether they could increase further amid rising inflation and extra costs for material and labour.
In August, Chris Fernandez, the project manager quit the council just months after the business case was submitted.
Norfolk County Council said the departure would not result in a change to the project's timetable.
However, in December the council delayed the final round of consultation before the planning application is submitted because ecological surveys have yet to be submitted. The consultation had been due to take place in the autumn last year.
In late November, the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green opposition councillors at County Hall united to write to the Department for Transport saying it would be an "environmentally and financially catastrophic" mistake to fund the road.
The impact on local wildlife has also been a long-running concern, particularly on a large barbastelle bat colony - a species listed as 'near threatened' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Martin Wilby, the county council's cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure has previously said they are planning significant environmental mitigation and improvement measures.
These include green bridges and wildlife underpasses, and creating and improving habitats across a wide area, which is likely to include woodland and wetland.