It is with great trepidation that I dare offer an opinion on the “Western Link” road debate that has consumed so many column inches of this newspaper over recent months and years.

Sadly the “conversation” on the best route, the cost, the legal challenges and the environmental impact has deteriorated into mud-slinging, acrimony and delay, that has led to eye-watering increases in the cost of the project.

Such polarisation is not helpful in persuading the Government to invest millions of pounds in the Norfolk project; money that is necessary to supplement the county council coffers and get the road built.

Supporters believe it is vital transport infrastructure for the future prosperity of the county, and blessed relief from heavy traffic for the villages and hamlets it would bypass.

But perhaps the delaying tactic of the road’s opponents has proved to be the best way to consign the project to the scrapyard - if the Government loses patience and pulls the plug on financial support.

So where would that leave us, and importantly the villagers that are plagued by the constant flow of lorries, vans and cars that “rat run” through the narrow lanes that link the A47 to the Northern Distributor, unfairly dubbed “the road to nowhere”?

The existing short cut is along lanes that were designed for the horse and cart, not juggernauts that scour the hedgerows as they try to pass in opposite directions. The road surfaces are broken and potholed, and quite frankly dangerous for the current level of traffic.

Following the debate from a distance, it seems many of the opponents of the road do not live near the route of the proposed link, and do not suffer the intolerable impact on their daily lives of all this traffic.

For them it is an “academic” point of view, fuelled by quite reasonable concerns about the environmental impact of road building.

But I suspect the inhabitants of Weston Longville, Weston Green and Ringland, plus the hamlets along the way, hold a more pragmatic view about whether the road should go ahead.

Having lived in Norfolk since the early 1970s, the county has a long history of resisting change and adopting a drawbridge mentality.

I well remember the opponents of dualling the A11. A vociferous minority delayed the coming of a decent road from Barton Mills to Norwich – bypassing towns such as Thetford and Attleborough – for a couple of decades. The A11 dualling eventually unlocked the economic potential of the A11 corridor for the benefit of generations to come.

Some still argue it opened the floodgates to “foreigners” and has spoiled the Norfolk idyll for ever – more people, more houses and more money for the property developers.

The arguments raged again when the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) was mooted. For those whose homes were in its path, it was a blow to many individuals and landowners.

But it has removed thousands of vehicles from the centre of Norwich, speeded up journey times and made a contribution to reducing CO2 emissions in the city.

And like the “Western Link”, the presence on the route of barbastelle bats looked like a stumbling block to construction of the NDR. In a bid to allay fears about danger to the bats, expensive “bridges” were built.

Made of wire mesh strung high over the carriageway between two poles, the idea was bats could use them as a reference point for sonar so they could avoid the road while flying.

But just when it looked as if the financial hurdles facing the £274m “Western Link” road had been overcome with pledges of extra cash from the Government, a new report has put the whole scheme in doubt.

Norfolk county council leader, Kay Mason Billig announced that Natural England had revised its guidance over the protection of barbastelle bats “which means that the bar we will have to leap over will be almost impossible to achieve”.

The county council has already spent millions of pounds on the project and further delays will only increase the cost. And at a time when council finances are being squeezed hard, is this the end of the road for the “Western Link”?

Might the bats be the perfect excuse for the council to cut its losses, and abandon the project?

With the Government announcing a huge increase in defence spending, might it find better uses for the money it had promised?

It could be a win, win. Red faces saved and a claw back for the Exchequer – but not for those who suffer from constant “rat run” traffic.

If the “super highway” link road crashes and is ditched, the council must quickly look for a cheaper alternative relief road.

The missing link around Norwich needs putting in place, but with as much mitigation as possible to prevent impact on the environment.

There are at least three other options (less damaging to the environment) to the current planned route, as pointed out by Dr Graham Martin in a recently published letter in the EDP (April 24 for those who may have missed it).

He mentions dual-carriageway options and a single carriageway option, the latter being a fraction of the cost of the £274m “super highway”.

If, as the council leader intimates in her comments, the present scheme has been rendered “Mission Impossible”, it must not be the end of the road but a new beginning for the “Western Link” project.

Peter Franzen OBE is a retired former editor of the EDP