The Western Link: Norfolk County Council makes its decision

Norfolk County Council met today to decide whether to proceed with building the Western Link Road. The road effectively completes a Norwich ring road by building a short stretch of road from the end of the Broadland Northway to the A47 west of the city.

It is no surprise that the vote to start the work was carried by a substantial majority since the Conservatives won more than two thirds of the seats on the council at the recent election – and they made it very clear that they were in favour of completing the road. Personally, I thought about this issue a great deal. The issues are complex and there are compelling arguments on both sides. At different times over the last three years I have come down on different sides of the debate.

I am not convinced of the economic case for the Western Link. It seems unlikely that saving 15 minutes from journey times to the coast will hugely benefit the local economy by making it easier to get to and from Cambridge, say. I also doubt that the economy will benefit directly from the construction project since the main contractor will be a national company and will employ sub contractors from all over everywhere.

In terms of the cost and value for money for local taxpayers, most of the funding will come from central government and most of the cost to Norfolk County Council will be in the form of capital spending which means NCC will borrow the money. So the annual cost will be the repayments and the interest (with interest rates being very low). There may be some benefits to the county with investment in housing, new schools etc from the payments made to the Community Infrastructure Levy. We need more new houses but there is a danger that infrastructure investment is skewed to the Greater Norwich area. I have consistently argued that North Norfolk isn’t getting its fair share of investment in infrastructure and I can’t see the Broadland Northway or the Western Link making that better.

There is clearly strong concern local to the road about traffic levels in Ringland and Weston and Costessey. It was this problem that was the main reason why Norfolk Liberal Democrats remained committed to completion of the Western Link while I was a member of the party. Is building the road with all the financial and environmental costs involved the right way to fix this problem?

In the end it was the long-term environmental aspects that swung me to vote against completing the road. It will be many years before we successfully end our reliance on the car but I just feel we have to start somewhere with shifting away from projects that facilitate the continued dependency.

So I voted against the motion to build the road but it will go ahead to the next stage of scrutiny – there’s likely to be many more challenges, legal democratic, before it is actually built.