Norfolk's Conservative MPs have singled out an "unelected individual" at Natural England who they accuse of making an "arbitrary decision" to halt the construction of the Western Link road.

They have identified the unnamed official in a stinging letter to Steve Barclay, the environment secretary, urging him to intervene to ensure the project is not scuppered by renewed concerns from the advisory body about the presence of bats on the proposed route.

The letter, signed by all eight of county's Conservative MPs and three Tory prospective parliamentary candidates, calls on the minister to "bring sanity to the stance taken by Natural England".

Dereham Times: Environment secretary Steve BarclayEnvironment secretary Steve Barclay

They warn of the "catastrophic consequences to infrastructure projects in Norfolk" as a result of what they say is the "arbitrary decision" to revise existing guidance on bats, meaning the £274m road is effectively blocked "by the opinion of an unelected individual within Natural England, despite it having the overwhelming support of the people of Norfolk".


Natural England's revised guidance relates to the organisation's view on whether barbastelle bats, which live on the route of the proposed route and would be disturbed by its construction, have "favourable conservation status".

This is the minimum threshold at which the species is thriving in England and is expected to continue to thrive.

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

The organisation says there are not enough bats to grant favourable conservation status and states there is "no known mitigation or compensation" for loss of barbastelle roosting habitat in the short to medium term.

Council leader Kay Mason Billig last month announced the new guidance meant the 3.9 mile road, which would connect the Norwich Northern Distributor Road to the A47 west of Norwich, was at risk of not getting an environmental licence, which is needed to allow work to take place given the presence of bats.

In response, she has enlisted the help of MPs to make help make her case.

Dereham Times: A barbastelle batA barbastelle bat (Image: C. Packman)


Those MPs have now written to Mr Barclay stating: "We are writing collectively, as the Conservative MPs representing Norfolk, to express our deep concern over this seemingly arbitrary decision and to seek its immediate review.

"We say 'arbitrary' since the Natural England report expressly states that the assessment is not based on any published data set, but is rather the result of internal 'modelling' and reference to an unpublished report."

The MPs said it would have "catastrophic consequences to infrastructure projects in Norfolk" if that guidance is allowed to stand.

Dereham Times: An artists' visualisation of the Norwich Western LinkAn artists' visualisation of the Norwich Western Link (Image: Norfolk County Council)

They said: "Locally, this arbitrary decision will have the immediate effect of stopping the much-needed completion of the orbital route around Norwich - the Western Link road.

"This is in excess of £231m investment in our region brought to a stop by the opinion of an unelected individual within Natural England, despite it having the overwhelming support of the people of Norfolk.

"We fear this impact will be repeated right across the whole of Southern England and the South of Wales unless you act to bring sanity to the stance taken by Natural England."

Dereham Times: Norfolk's Conservative MPs - Chloe Smith, Richard Bacon, Liz Truss, George Freeman, Duncan Baker, James Wild, Sir Brandon Lewis and Jerome MayhewNorfolk's Conservative MPs - Chloe Smith, Richard Bacon, Liz Truss, George Freeman, Duncan Baker, James Wild, Sir Brandon Lewis and Jerome Mayhew (Image: Norfolk Conservatives)

The letter has been signed by Jerome Mayhew (Broadland), Richard Bacon (South Norfolk), Duncan Baker (North Norfolk), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), Liz Truss (South West Norfolk), George Freeman (Mid Norfolk), Sir Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) and James Wild (North West Norfolk).

Conservative prospective parliamentary candidates Poppy Simister-Thomas (South Norfolk), David Thomas (Norwich South) and Charlotte Salomon (Norwich North) have also added their signatures.


James Marshall, Natural England area manager, previously said preliminary advice had been given to the council and there had been no change in how information was assessed.

He said: "As the developer of the proposed Norwich Western Link, the council will need to demonstrate there is no satisfactory alternative to the scheme and that the conservation status of the bats would not be negatively affected by the road."

READ MORE: Call for plan B over Norwich Western Link amid bat concerns

The council has said it will press ahead with lodging a planning application for the road to its own planning committee.

The call from MPs has come in for criticism from opponents of the scheme, who say it is an attack on science and the independence of civil servants.

Dereham Times: Prof Catherine RowettProf Catherine Rowett

Prof Catherine Rowett, Green county councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate for South Norfolk, said: "What a surprise, to see all these has-been and discredited ex-MPs, soon-to-be ex-MPs and never-to-be-MPs ganging up against the Norfolk countryside, its wild creatures, its wildlife trust, Natural England and other guardians of our beautiful world."


Norfolk's Conservative MPs are united in their efforts to prevent the £274m Norwich Western Link from being blocked.

This 3.9-mile road has long been a priority for Tory-controlled Norfolk County Council and it would be a major blow for them if this scheme does not go ahead.

When County Hall leader Kay Mason Billig revealed the authority's belief that new guidance from Natural England related to bats could put the scheme at risk, she said the aid of MPs was being enlisted.

The Conservative MPs have now written to environment secretary Steve Barclay warning of "catastrophic consequences" and urging him to intervene.

Of course, they are entitled to fight for the future of this road - and many voters will applaud them for doing so.

But what jars is some of the rhetoric being used.

They single out an "unelected individual" at Natural England, who they accuse of an "arbitrary decision" which could prevent the road's construction.

Hmmm. It seems a bit of a stretch to paint this as the work of some rogue official. You don't get to simply publish guidance like this on a whim - it will have had to be considered by others.

Secondly, so what if they are 'unelected'? Natural England, lest anybody forget, are government advisors, not elected officials.

They are supposed to be experts in their field, not people picked by us to represent our views.

Our MPs are justified in asking Mr Barclay to scrutinise that advice, but the attack on public servants for doing what they are paid to do feels distasteful.

Liz Truss, one of the signatories of the letter, was previously quoted as saying her efforts to cut taxes during her brief stint as prime minister were “sabotaged” by “the deep state”.

This criticism of Natural England feels in a similar vein.

These Conservatives are part of the government which took an age to agree to bankroll the Norwich Western Link, so this could all be viewed as something of a smokescreen to hide how that delay contributed to this situation.