The Norwich Western Link has been given the go-ahead by ministers, who have agreed to pay more than £210m towards the cost of the controversial road.

After months of uncertainty, the government approved Norfolk County Council's outline business case for the 3.9-mile road, to connect the Northern Distributor Road to the A47.

The road had been named among 70 schemes that could get a share of cash 'saved' by prime minister Rishi Sunak's decision to scrap the northern leg of the HS2 rail route.

Dereham Times: Prime minister Rishi SunakPrime minister Rishi Sunak (Image: Danny Lawson/PA)

And the government confirmed on Friday (October 13) that it will contribute 85pc - £213m of the current estimated £251m bill - to the scheme.

The price tag is certain to have increased further since that estimate from summer last year, but County Hall has yet to reveal how much it now thinks the scheme would cost.

The council is set to have to borrow money and dip into its reserves to cover the whole cost of the scheme.

Dereham Times: The Norwich Western Link still needs to secure planning permissionThe Norwich Western Link still needs to secure planning permission (Image: Norfolk County Council)

But the government has left the door open for the project to receive more money.

When the 70 road schemes were announced the government said "most" of those which get outline business case approval would get a 100pc contribution, rather than 85pc.

Dereham Times: Norfolk County Council's County Hall headquartersNorfolk County Council's County Hall headquarters

And civil servants have told County Hall they are working through whether the Western Link could receive further cash.

The council will still need to secure permission from its own planning committee for the road and complete other legal processes before the full business case will be approved.

Dereham Times: Norfolk County Council leader Kay Mason BilligNorfolk County Council leader Kay Mason Billig (Image: Norfolk County Council)

Council leader Kay Mason Billig, said: "I’m delighted the government is showing its confidence in Norfolk by supporting the Norwich Western Link. This will make a huge difference to local people, tackling congestion and poor air quality.

"It enables us to complete this long overdue ring road around Norwich and unlock further opportunities for economic growth - providing more of the high-skilled, well-paid jobs that Norfolk needs."

Graham Plant, the council's cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, said: “This is the news we’ve been waiting and pushing for, and I’m so pleased ministers have heard us and understood how important the Norwich Western Link is to Norfolk.

"Continuing to improve our transport infrastructure for all kinds of journeys is vital to the future success of our county and this endorsement of our business case brings the Norwich Western Link a significant step closer to being delivered.”

The road - which has long been a priority of the Conservative-controlled county council - has sparked huge controversy.

While council leaders and business bosses say the road would bring an economic boost and cut congestion, critics, including opposition councillors and wildlife charities, say it would come at a devastating environmental cost.

Dereham Times: Campaigners against the Western LinkCampaigners against the Western Link (Image: Archant)

The route, which includes a viaduct over the Wensum Valley, has already been altered because of a super-colony of bats.

Dereham Times: The road's route had to be changed due to the presence of barbastelle batsThe road's route had to be changed due to the presence of barbastelle bats (Image: C. Packman)

Eliot Lyne, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “Today’s decision is terrible news for Norfolk’s wildlife.

"It goes against our government’s promises to recover our deteriorating natural environment by supporting a scheme that will destroy nature. 

“In addition to the destruction of a well-connected network of vital wildlife habitats including ancient woods and trees, grasslands, chalk streams and floodplain, there is mounting and detailed long-term scientific evidence that the road will irreparably harm the UK’s largest population of rare and legally protected barbastelle bats.

"Our professional view is that it is impossible to successfully mitigate for impacts on wildlife at this scale. If the road goes ahead to planning, huge sums of public money are likely to be further wasted on a project that is not likely to ever obtain planning consent."

Timeline of the Norwich Western Link


It was in 2003 that the idea for what was described as the northern 'relief road' was officially dusted down and put back on the table, about a decade after it was originally mooted.

At that point a number of routes were being considered, including joining up with the A47 at the west of the city, with a prediction that work could start in 2006.

But the hopes of a complete link were dashed, due to the River Wensum being a Special Area of Conservation.

It was concluded there was no practical way to cross the Wensum Valley without having an effect on that area.

So, when it was built, the Norwich Northern Distributor Road stops at the A1067 Fakenham Road.


Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council revives the so-called ‘missing link’, naming it as one of its top transport priorities.


A preferred route, between Weston Longville and Ringland was agreed by the council cabinet.

However, that route - route C - was not the choice of the public, who, in consultation, had said they wanted route D, which went nearer Norwich.

The preferred route was agreed by nine votes, with one abstention.

The route includes a viaduct over the River Wensum and stretches from the A1067 Fakenham Road to the A47 near the Honingham junction.

Dereham Times: The Norwich Western LinkThe Norwich Western Link (Image: Norfolk County Council)


Fears were raised by independent ecology experts Wild Wings Ecology that the route of the road would see construction going through what is likely to be the largest known ‘super-colony’ of 'near threatened’ barbastelle bats in the UK.


The cost of the road was revealed to have risen from £153m to £198m.

The council submits its business case for the road to the Department For Transport, seeking 85pc of the funding for the scheme - £169m at that point.

In late November, the Labour and Green groups, along with the leader of the Liberal Democrats at County Hall wrote to the Department for Transport saying it would be an "environmentally and financially catastrophic" mistake to fund the road.

Dereham Times: Campaigners said ancient trees will be lostCampaigners said ancient trees will be lost (Image: Archant 2021)

Owners of woodland which would be chopped down to make way for the road say no amount of planting would compensate for the loss of ancient trees.

Dereham Times: Martin WilbyMartin Wilby (Image: Archant)

But Martin Wilby, then the county council's cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, was confident the council had made the case for the road to get government cash.

In December the council delayed the final round of consultation before the planning application was lodged because ecological surveys had yet to be submitted. The consultation had been due to take place in the autumn last year.


Dereham Times: Stephen FryStephen Fry (Image: Archant)

Broadcaster Stephen Fry adds his voice to the campaign against the road. He was among 23 prominent local figures, climate experts and politicians to have signed an open letter against the plans.

Norwich City Council also came out against the plans, saying it could promote car dependency.

This was rejected by Mr Wilby, who said it would take traffic out of the city and bring about many associated benefits, including reducing carbon emissions from vehicles.

In February, the county council revealed it had been forced to change the route of the road, after surveys confirmed the presence of bats roosting in woodland near Ringland.

In June, the council revealed the estimated cost of the project had increased to £251m.


In February, the county council announces it is pausing lodging a planning application for the road, amid ongoing uncertainty over whether the government will back the scheme.

In June, with the government still silent over whether it will bankroll the scheme, the council 'slows down' work on the project.

But, in October, supporters of the project are boosted when Mr Sunak announces he will scrap the northern leg of HS2 and it is named among 70 road schemes which could be funded.

And the government has now confirmed the road will get £213m towards its estimated £251m cost.