Fears over rising construction costs on Norwich Western Link

06:15 26 May 2022

Council bosses have been warned that rising construction costs caused by the war in Ukraine risk tipping the bill for the Western Link road project “off a cliff”.

Norfolk County Council wants to build the road – to link the A1067 Fakenham Road to the A47 in west Norwich – but officials have admitted that prices for road building materials are currently “very high” due to of the conflict.

It is feared that this means the current estimate of £198m for the 3.9-mile route – which was already likely to rise following a forced route change – could climb even further.

Tom McCabe, the council’s chargeable services manager, told a meeting at County Hall on Wednesday May 25 that the cost of asphalt had risen by 5% in the space of just one month.

He said there were “significant pressures” on the costs of other materials produced in Eastern Europe.

The cost of steel has also risen in recent months, with a 25% jump in March.

Norfolk County Council is currently waiting to hear whether the government will accept the authority’s business case for the road and fund around £168m of the current cost of £198m.

A document revealing how the route of the road would need to be readjusted to avoid protected bats – and how much that would add to the bill – was due to be presented to the Tory-controlled cabinet next month.

But this has been delayed as officers have yet to complete all the required work.

Amid rising material costs, some road projects in other parts of the country – such as a link road in Cumbria – have been delayed.

Emma Corlett, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Labor Group in Norfolk County Council
– Credit: Archant

Emma Corlett, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Labor Group, asked about rising costs at the Infrastructure and Development Select Committee meeting.

Tom McCabe.  Photo: Supplied

Tom McCabe, Pay Services Manager at Norfolk County Council
– Credit: Provided

Mr McCabe said: “We will have to recognize that the construction industry is very hot at the moment.

“But, of all industries, the construction industry is perhaps the most cyclical.

“There will come a time when the demand drops and this will be the best way to chart a course through that.”

Afterwards, Ms Corlett said: “Construction costs have skyrocketed since the county council submitted the business case for Western Link.

“Even if the government agrees to fund the initial amount requested, the council runs a very real risk of having to fill an ever-growing gap of millions.

“It risks tipping the council off a cliff. Other councils are starting to take a much more sensible approach of putting road construction projects on hold so they can protect services.”

Fakenham Road where the proposed Western Link route would join just before the roundabout.  Image:

Fakenham Road where the proposed Western Link route would join just before the roundabout. Photo: Daielle Booden
– Credit: Danielle Boden

Proponents of the program say it will reduce rat-running, speed up commute times and boost the economy.

But critics say it will encourage car use and harm the environment.

Vision for transport

At the same council meeting, officers said they were confident they could overcome a possible legal challenge against a transport plan in Norfolk, which includes the Western Link.

The Local Transport Plan is the council’s vision, through to 2036, to improve motorways, encourage the use of walking, cycling, bus and rail and to deliver major projects like the Western Link and the Bypass of Long Stratton.

The select committee agreed to recommend that the cabinet and the full council agree on the plan at a future meeting.

Sharon Blundell, Member of South Norfolk Council.

Sharon Blundell, Member of South Norfolk Council.

But, as Sharon Blundell, a Liberal Democrat adviser to Costessey and supporter of Western Link, pointed out, there has been a suggestion of a legal challenge against the program.

Law firm Leigh Day has written to County Hall warning that Andrew Boswell, former Green County and City Councilman, is set to seek a judicial review of the local transportation plan.

A judicial review, if it reaches this stage, would allow a judge to consider whether the plan is legal.

But Vince Muspratt, the board’s director of growth and development, said he was “comfortable” with the work that had been done.

He told advisers: ‘What I can assure you is that we took our own legal advice every step of the way.