Monday, April 28, 2014
Today, after countless years of waiting – too often in long queues – the dualled A11 Elveden bypass opens to traffic. But Simon Altham, managing director of Hoseasons, is not satisfied. He wants to see the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) next on the list.
Ahead of schedule we’ll see the first part of the A11 opening this week – and not before time.
For too long, businesses and residents have had to endure the pain and challenges of poor access to the region, despite a strong economic case being made for decades. Norfolk business leaders have been shouting about this need for years and perhaps unsurprisingly tourism was often one of the loudest of these voices.
Tourism is worth billions to our county’s economy, whether directly through people holidaying here or the thousands of jobs it creates.
Many businesses rely heavily on tourists coming to the region. From holiday cottages, hotels, holiday parks and boatyards through to restaurants, shops and visitor attractions, it is imperative to these businesses that we continue to improve accessibility in and around Norfolk.
From a tourism perspective a completely dualled A11 will get people into the county faster, and that’s essential. We know that drive time has become increasingly important for people holidaying in the UK.
Consumers want more short breaks and don’t want long drives to their holiday destination.
Other destinations have seen the benefit of improved infrastructure and invested heavily in road links over recent years.
The A30 into Cornwall springs to mind, a county which has long competed head-on with Norfolk for visitors from the Midlands.
So what about the impact on the people of Norfolk? Are we now going to be swamped with millions of tourists, will the roads get even busier, and will the county lose some of what makes it special?
As someone who lives in Norfolk, and whose heart is very much in the county, I do recognise the concerns that opening up the A11 will encourage more visitors to the region and we may risk losing part of what makes the county a great destination. But we have to move with the times and start to embrace this as a real positive for the future of Norfolk.
Norfolk is one of the best places to live and work in the UK, and this won’t be lost by us welcoming more holidaymakers to the county.
Tourism is a highly competitive marketplace and we shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and lose out on the considerable economic benefit.
If we do nothing jobs will be lost, of that I have no doubt, so we have to move with the times and continue to look ahead and ensure we maintain and improve our thriving local businesses and the lives of our local communities, many of whom who rely heavily on tourism.
And it is for this reason that we need to be thinking beyond the A11.
Easier access to the county is great news, but what next? People will be able to drive to Norwich quicker than ever before, but what about those people whose destination takes them beyond our Fine City?
Will they still face half an hour or more struggling to get round the North side of Norwich if heading north to the coast or will they end up gridlocked in the dreaded queues on the Acle Straight to get into and beyond Great Yarmouth?
While I recognise this won’t be popular with all, we must now start to focus on the Northern Distributor Road. Not only would this make many of our own journeys quicker, it will make the Broads and north Norfolk more far more accessible than they are today. This cannot be another exercise in drawn out, painful and political planning – we need decisive and quick action if we are to build on the good work being done by the completion of the A11.
There’s no point in getting people to Norwich quicker if they grind to a halt once they arrive. That will be bad for business, bad for the economy and bad for our ever growing reputation.
So well done everyone involved – it’s a great first step, but let’s not leave it here. Let’s get the NDR sorted and truly open up our county, and the economic possibilities, to everyone.