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Anger at council's bizarre reason for refusing to release bat survey results for NDR/A47 Western Link woods

PUBLISHED: 16:57 17 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 18 August 2019

A Barbastelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

A Barbastelle bat. Pic by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

Council bosses planning a multi-million pound road through woodland used by bats have refused to release details of wildlife surveys in the area - saying that could put bats at risk.

Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the western link road to the Northern Broadway (NDR) gets built. With him are his daughters, Miranda, 12, and Matilda, eight. Pic: Denise Bradley.Iain Robinson in the woods he owns, part of woodland near Ringland, which will be affected if the western link road to the Northern Broadway (NDR) gets built. With him are his daughters, Miranda, 12, and Matilda, eight. Pic: Denise Bradley.

Iain Robinson, whose woods near Ringland is on the route of the proposed Western Link road, said it was bizarre that Norfolk County Council refused his Freedom Of Information request for data related to his land and the nearby area from its bat surveys.

The council gave a number of reasons for refusal. The first was that, because it had commissioned a company to carry out a survey and provide a report, the council did "not believe" the raw data was its property to provide.

They then said, even if it was the council's property, it would cost too much to retrieve it. Freedom Of Information requests have a limit of £450 for the cost of extracting data and the council said it would cost more than £750.

The council also refused because it said publishing the precise movements of the bats could put them at risk.

Option C is the recommended preferred route for the Western Link. Picture: Norfolk County CouncilOption C is the recommended preferred route for the Western Link. Picture: Norfolk County Council

But Dr Robinson, who lives in Norwich and works at the University of East Anglia, said a bigger risk to bats was building a road through their habitats.

He has appealed, saying data was provided to people making similar requests elsewhere.

He said: "Our own independent surveys have detected the presence of Barbastelle bats. Part of our concern is the background to the decision made by the cabinet - just how much data had been gathered at that point and how informed their decision was."

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Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and transport at Norfolk County Council, said: "We really do understand there will be concerns and questions about any large-scale construction project and we try, and will continue to try, to answer queries put to us and provide reassurance about the extensive work that backs up our decision-making.

"There is a balance to be struck with this approach, which is why the Freedom of Information Act recognises some requests cannot be fulfilled, for example if the cost to the council, and ultimately to the taxpayer, exceeds an appropriate limit - which is one of the reasons this request was refused.

"In his appeal, Dr Robinson has clarified the level of detail he would like to receive and we're looking into this to see if this changes the outcome of his request."

Support and opposition for controversial road

The preferred route for the Western Link, to connect the Norwich Northern Distributor Road to the A47, was chosen by the county council cabinet last month.

The Conservative-controlled cabinet went for the £153m Option C.

The 3.9 mile route, would go from the A1067, run halfway between Weston Longville and Ringland and link to the A47 at a new junction at Wood Lane, near Honingham.

It would need a 720 metre long viaduct over the River Wensum, but the council says discussions with the Environment Agency and Natural England led them to believe that would be acceptable, even though the river is a special area of conservation and a site of special scientific interest.

The link his backed by the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, fire chiefs and businesses such as Norwich Airport.

But the opposition Labour group are against it, as are climate change campaigners Extinction Rebellion.

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