Western Link scheme 'still on track'
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
County Hall bosses have insisted the Western Link road project is still going full steam ahead, after Norwich City Council dealt it a major blow by refusing to support it.
The scheme to build the 3.9mile road that would link the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) to the A47 has been beset by problems in the last year, from rising costs to consultation delays.
The latest hurdle comes from Norwich City Council, which is set to come out against the £198m project at next Wednesday's cabinet meeting.
But a County Hall chief has insisted the project has not gone off the rails.
Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure at Norfolk County Council, said: “It is essential that we invest in better infrastructure in Norfolk and that includes delivering the Norwich Western Link (NWL).
"This isn’t just about tackling the significant existing traffic problems to the west of Norwich, it’s about taking action before these issues become even worse as more houses and jobs are created in the Greater Norwich area."
While Mr Wilby accepted there was 'work to be done', he said the council were taking a thorough, evidence-based approach.
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In June 2021, the county council submitted a business case to the government, asking for £168m of funding for the project, which Mr Wilby described as a "really strong case" for national investment.
A county council spokeswoman added they were expecting a decision "in due course" and were working with the Department for Transport (DFT) to address any issues.
While Norwich City Council has recommended against supporting the project "at this stage", the county spokeswoman said this would not impact on the business case, as the authority had not been listed in the key organisations supporting the project.
She said some of the criteria that the city council says needs to be met in order for it to support the project - including air quality and decongestion benefits in the city, an investment package in public transport and evidence wildlife and landscapes impact can be mitigated - will be addressed in the planning application.
A DFT spokesman said they are continuing to review the business case and it notes the city council's position, with an update on the next steps in due course.
In December the council confirmed it had 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.
The county council spokeswoman said the situation has not changed and the project team are still considering the findings.
She added County Hall was working closely with the city council to deliver a sustainable transport strategy for the city as part of the Transport for Norwich Strategy.
Alongside the city council's concerns, several groups have come out against the plans, including all opposition parties at County Hall, environmental groups and Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.
In response to the city council's recommendation, Mr Lewis tweeted: "Climate action means prioritising environmentally progressive policies like investing in public transport, while ditching projects that promote car dependency and pollution like the Western Link."
However, a number of businesses have backed the road, as have MPs, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and Norfolk Chambers of Commerce.
Nova Fairbank, chief operating officer for Norfolk Chambers of Commerce said the NWL continues to be needed to maximise the potential for the region.
"This link, together with the Broadland Northway, will help unlock growth and development and would be strongly welcomed by the Norfolk business community.
"It will facilitate easier access to both Norwich airport and Great Yarmouth port."
Mr Fairbank added the road will help support potential housing and jobs growth, provide the infrastructure for additional traffic, improve the quality of life for people living in the area and create a stronger link with the Midlands and the North.
However, alongside the NWL, Ms Fairbank said a greater use of car sharing, electric vehicles and more people using public transport was fundamental to reducing carbon emissions.
"Norfolk continues to lag way behind the rest of the UK in terms of infrastructure and must invest to ensure our infrastructure is completely fit for 21st-century travel," she said.
"Electric vehicles and public transport must run on something and there are many benefits to the business community for completing the NWL."