By Sean Meleady
Norfolk people are rightly proud of the beautiful countryside and unique habitats which attract many tourists to the county. However, Norfolk’s environment and ecological sustainability are threatened by two planned developments located just outside Norwich: the Norwich Western Link road and a proposed new housing development near Thorpe St Andrew which threatens three local woodlands.
The proposed Norwich Western link road is a 3.8 mile dual carriageway from Honigham just west of Easton to an area just North of Taverham. It will link the A47 West of Norwich with the A1067 Fakenham Road in the North-West, with the use of a new viaduct over the River Wensum. Together with the dualling of the A47 between North Tuddenham and Easton this scheme would bring Norwich its first orbital dual carriageway around the city.
Norfolk County Council argue that they are committed to building the road in a ‘environmentally responsible way’, achieving ‘biodiversity net gain’ by creating new habitats and improving existing ones. They have made a commitment to avoid harm to the River Wensum Special Area of Conservation in designing the viaduct and have established an Ecology Liaison Group involving representatives from local conservation groups. They also argue that the road will help reduce traffic on existing roads.
as they pursue this scheme, with its estimated cost of £160 million, they are planning to cut the budget for adult social care and children’s services by £51 million
However, Norwich Extinction Rebellion, Stop the Wensum Link and other campaigners object to the project on the grounds of cost, damage to the Wensum Valley ecosystem and potential increased pollution. They argue that this development is unnecessary, as there is an existing road (the B1535) linking the Northern Distributor Road and the A47, and that it opens the door for further harmful development in future. XR also make a convincing case that the council has its spending priorities out of whack – even as they pursue this scheme, with its estimated cost of £160 million, they are planning to cut the budget for adult social care and children’s services by £51 million over the next three years.
Norwich XR have led an active campaign against the proposed road since 2018, disrupting a consultation event at The Forum in December of that year and occupying County Hall in February 2019. However, despite this action councillors approved the scheme in July 2019, subject to planning and funding.
XR have continued their campaign against the road unabated, in partnership with groups including Stop Wensum Link and Car Free Norwich. Campaigners recently organised a cycle ride to drop off a letter at County Hall urging the County Council to oppose the development, followed by a visit to City Hall to encourage Norwich City Council to do the same. Online, they organised a social media storm and are encouraging residents to contribute to the on-going public consultation on transport.
The three woodlands of Thorpe Woods comprise 205 acres, forming the largest area of woodland in the Norwich region. In 2017 Broadland District Council rejected an application to build homes on the site but developers Socially Conscious Capital (SCC) successfully appealed against the refusal.
XR object to the felling of trees during a climate emergency and argue that the building work will contribute to CO2 emissions, both directly and by increasing traffic on surrounding roads, as well as increasing the risk of flooding. The Woodland Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations are also opposed to the development, arguing that the retention of existing woodland is vitally important due to the wide range of benefits woods deliver. These include biodiversity benefits such as helping habitats adapt to climate change and quality of life benefits such as contributing to public health.
XR activists have used a variety of tactics to protest the Thorpe Wood development, including a ritual restore and replant action where they read out a letter calling for Conservative Broadland MP Jerome Mayhew, who also part-owns Thorpe Woods through the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, to reconsider the plans. This was followed by presenting a letter opposing the development at Mayhew’s surgery in Acle in person and a socially distanced memorial for animal and plant species that will be lost if the development goes ahead.
In Norfolk as around the world, climate activists are playing a crucial role, not just by standing up for ecosystems and habitats but by opposing inflexible and powerful vested interests. While XR have been rightly criticised for their failure to address issues of inclusivity, their contribution to this cause is a significant one. If people in Norfolk want to preserve the biodiversity and beauty that the county is so well known for, we need a sustained, pluralist campaign against the semi-feudal Conservative oligarchy that rules our corner of this island.
All images courtesy of Extinction Rebellion Norwich
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