Plans for Norwich Western Link in doubt over new bat rules

Plan for new road
The £274m Norwich Western link road is due to stretch 3.9 miles (6.3km) connecting the Broadland Northway at the A1067 with the A47 at Easton

Plans for a new city link road are in doubt due to a change of rules to protect endangered Barbastelle bats.

The 3.9 miles (6.3km) Norwich Western link - costing £274m - would connect the Broadland Northway at the A1067 with the A47 at Easton.

Natural England has placed "favourable conservation status" on the species, effective from this month.

Norfolk County Council said the changes would make it "almost impossible" for the road to be granted a licence.

Conservative council leader, Kay Mason Billig, made the surprise announcement at a full council meeting on Tuesday.

She said: "Unfortunately [Natural England] have now revised its guidance which means the bar that we will have to leap over will be almost impossible to achieve.

"I'm very disappointed, we want to deliver this road for the people of Norfolk, we know the majority of people want it, we need it for economic development, we need it to make our roads safer." The authority has said it would challenge the new guidance but remained determined to forge ahead with its planning application.

BBC Wildlife presenter Chris Packham called it "fantastic news... Not just for bats but for all biodiversity. Now let's start working together to plan for better low carbon public transport".

Norwich bypass map
Norfolk County Council has said the road would cut congestion and journey times

Labour group leader Steve Morphew said: "We've been warning them for years it was either going to be... bat problems or money problems - so they can't be surprised, we're not surprised, what we know is they've wasted a lot of time and money on this and it's time they ditched it."

He urged the Conservative group to "cut our losses, get on with it" and find a "sustainable transport solution".

Jamie Osborn from the Greens said it was "fantastic news for the beautiful and unique Wensum Valley" and called on the Tories to "apologise".

Natural England has been approached for comment.

According to Natural England, "favoured conservation status" is the minimum threshold at which it is confident the species is thriving in England and is expected to continue to thrive sustainably in the future.

The definition is outlined in a report published this month.

The Department for Transport has approved the road scheme and the Conservative-run county council had said it would formally put in a planning application in early 2024, with preparatory building work starting at the end of 2025.

Construction was due to begin in the summer of 2026 with the road opening in 2029.

In November it was announced that the cost of the new road had risen by more than £20m to £274m and would open three years late.

Ms Mason Billig said the council "was due to pay 15% of the overall budget, but we've got the majority of it back" from the government.

The project has been labelled a "disastrous white elephant" by opposition parties, with calls for it to be scrapped.

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