Critics unhappy at NDR Western Link answers - but case to be lodged
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
Critics of the £198m Norwich Western Link say it remains "financially and environmentally reckless" to push ahead with the scheme - after further probing over the controversial project.
Norfolk County Council's cabinet and full council both agreed to submit the outline business case for the road and to award a contract to build it at two meetings on Monday, June 7.
But Labour and Green county councillors called it in to scrutiny, to put more questions to officers and Conservative cabinet members about the road, which would connect the Northern Distributor Road to the A47 to the west of Norwich.
During Wednesday's two hour meeting, held at the Norfolk Showground, Labour's deputy leader Emma Corlett repeatedly asked what legal advice the council had received over the risk of planning failure - and if it could be shared with the scrutiny committee.
David Allfrey, highway and major projects manager, said: "We do take legal advice and that is used to inform things like the cabinet report.
"It is fair to say it is an ongoing process of dialogue and that all feeds into the process as the project moves forward.
"As we get into more detail around the planning application, that's something we would be taking legal advice on."
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Ms Corlett asked again, whether legal advice over the risk of planning failure had been taken to date.
Tom McCabe, the council's head of paid service, said "appropriate legal advice" had been given.
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Pushed further, he said: "We have taken advice as to how we put our case forward so we avoid planning failure."
But Green councillor Ben Price said: "I think we can conclude that is a negative".
The committee rejected a proposal by Green Jamie Osborn to refer the matter back to cabinet, due to inadequate evidence, including around traffic modelling, carbon emissions and mitigation to protect Barbastelle bats.
Council leader Andrew Proctor said what had been agreed was to submit the outline business case, not to award planning permission or to begin building the road.
He said more detail would be worked up as part of putting the planning application together.
And Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and transport, said £22m would be spent on mitigation for wildlife, that the road would boost the economy and reduce rat-running in places such as Weston Longville.
He said: "This brings big investment into Norfolk. We are all coming out of the pandemic and we need to be on the front foot and investing in our infrastructure to attract jobs, businesses and make a better life for everybody in Norfolk, especially the people who live to the west of Norwich."
The committee's decision not to refer it back to cabinet, means the outline business case can now be submitted to the Department for Transport and a contract to build the road awarded.
The road would still need to secure funding, with the council hoping £168m will come from the government and £30m underwritten by the county council.
It would also need to get planning permission. The council's own planning committee would make that decision, but it is likely to end up being subject to a planning inquiry.
After the meeting, Ms Corlett said: "We have heard nothing to dissuade us from our view that there is no mitigation that could prevent damage to the Wensum Valley Special Area of Conservation and protected Barbastelle bats, therefore failure to get planning permission is a real risk.
"It remains financially and environmentally reckless to continue to place the council at such risk."
David Pett, lawyer for campaign group Stop the Wensum Link, said afterwards: "Good questions were asked by the councillors, but the key planning issues of whether the River Wensum special area of conservation can be built across, whether wildlife law will be broken by disturbance of the barbastelle bat colony, whether the scheme will break climate laws and carbon budgets were all kicked down the road."
Protesters gathered outside the Showground arena ahead of the meeting.