Fears for bats and wildlife after NDR Western Link moves step nearer
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
Bosses at a wildlife trust said they are dismayed the controversial £153m Western Link road has cleared a crucial hurdle - fearing vital habitats will be damaged by the scheme.
The Department for Transport has granted conditional support for Norfolk County Council’s business plan for the 3.8-mile Norwich Western Link road.
Despite the backing, the road, which would connect the Northern Distributor Road to the A47 near Easton, would still need to secure planning permission and funding.
And the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which has raised concerns about the road previously, says the government should not have given conditional approval until after wildlife surveys are complete.
They say close to 10 acres of woodland could be lost as a result of the road and are not convinced the council’s plans to mitigate for the loss will support the bats and other wildlife which would be displaced.
Pamela Abbott, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said she was dismayed.
She said: “This decision should not have been made before it can be shown that the likely significant biodiversity impacts will be addressed.
“We will be looking closely at the information from wildlife surveys the council is gathering this spring, and will then write to the Department for Transport stressing it is vital that specific habitat requirements of all wildlife along the route are assessed. We will also attend the future public inquiry to make the case for nature.”
John Hiskett, acting head of people and wildlife at the trust, added: “The mature trees in this woodland provide features such as holes and bark gaps, which form a key roosting habitat for the local bat population.
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“The rarity of the species present means that these areas of woodland, along with the whole complex of woodland habitats, in the vicinity of the proposed route are likely to be of national importance.
“It is very likely that the newly created habitat that is proposed in its place will not be of sufficient quantity or quality to support bats and other wildlife displaced from the areas lost to the road.
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“This is exacerbated by the loss of habitat connectivity that will inevitably occur, particularly in the light of the growing evidence from other road schemes that alternatives such as bat bridges, as currently designed, are rarely effective.”
Norfolk County Council said it was “committed” to replacing and improving wildlife habitats.
Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure at Norfolk County Council, said: “I understand Norfolk Wildlife Trust want to hold us to account on our plans for the Norwich Western Link.
“This project is important to local people and Norfolk’s economy but also has to take nature into account too. Infrastructure projects must demonstrate sufficient mitigation in terms of their environmental and ecological impact and we’ll have to satisfy this as part of the planning application and approvals processes.
“We are committed to replacing and improving habitats for wildlife in the local area and to maintaining connectivity via green bridges and wildlife underpasses across the road.”
The council is due to carry out a number of surveys, for bats, otters, water vole, great crested newts, badgers, snails, reptiles and fish.
Mr Wilby said: “We’re continuing to gather data so that we can make sure our environmental and ecological proposals, which are due to be submitted as part of the planning application next year, are as effective as possible and take account of up-to-date information.
“While we are still at early stages of the project and the detailed design development, we’ve already had early discussions with Norfolk Wildlife Trust and other local environment and ecology groups about this work and as our proposals are developed further we will continue to share these with them to get their feedback.”