Norwich £112m road plan - good idea or waste of money?
Business bosses have hailed the northern distributor road (NDR) as “the single most important road improvement in Norfolk”, set to generate a £1.3bn boost to the county’s economy.
But critics say it is a road to nowhere which will concrete over swathes of countryside and is little more than an outdated vanity project for council bosses.
A fresh bid has been submitted by Norfolk County Council to convince the government the £112.5m NDR is worth funding.
The county council’s new submission to secure that cash highlights how the road is “key” to enabling 37,000 new homes to be built and 27,000 new jobs created in and around Norwich, while unlocking growth of £1.3bn.
They say it will enable a package of transport improvements in Norwich, including rapid bus transit schemes, while encouraging growth in areas such as North Walsham and Aylsham.
The council is calling for the Department for Transport to award £67.5m, on top of £19m already earmarked from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the so-called Postwick Hub – changes to the junction at the A47 which is effectively the gateway for the NDR.
The council intends to make up the total cost by borrowing £22m, with the rest of the cash coming from growth point cash.
Council bosses still hope, at a future stage, a further stretch can be built connecting through to the A1067.
And business leaders around Norfolk, including some of the biggest employers in the county, have backed the call for the government to fund the NDR.
Andrew Bell, chief executive of Norwich International Airport, said if the NDR was not built it would jeopardise future expansion.
He said: “There is no doubt that the momentum provided by the aiport’s current activities is acting as a catalyst for further development.
“This further development is, however, in jeopardy without the necessary regional infrastructure to support it. The NDR is one of the key pieces of infrastructure that will unlock this potential, providing economic growth, employment and skills training to the city and the wider region.”
A spokesman for insurance company Aviva said: “We think the addition of this new route will not only benefit Aviva staff but all those based at Broadland Business Park who regularly travel into work through the north of the city.” Graham Plant, county council cabinet member for planning and transportation, says the case for the road, which the council has spent the past decade working up, has been well made.
He said: “Transport is not an end in itself, and the NDR is critical to Norwich’s future economic success.
“Improvements in the city centre will allow the growth of business and jobs, but the NDR will also provide direct access to key employment sites at the airport and at Broadland Business Park, creating in total about 12,000 jobs and over £1.3bn in economic benefits.”
The council says that, linked to the NDR, is a package of transport improvements known as the Norwich Area Transportation Strategy (NATS).
They say the NDR is needed to ease congestion on Norwich’s streets so that six rapid bus transit routes can be created.
The aim is that buses along those corridors – connecting places such as Wymondham, Costessey, Taverham, Thorpe St Andrew, the airport and Rackheath to the city centre –will have priority.
That will mean, council bosses say, that bus passengers face fewer delays and, because they will run every 10 minutes, they will be an attractive alternative to the car.
Preparatory work on the first rapid bus transit scheme – down Dereham Road – has already begun and £1.5m is available to pay for it through ringfenced funding from the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.
But the scheme has already caused controversy, with families unhappy about a move to close right turns into Heigham Street and Old Palace Road because they fear it will lead to rat-running on other streets.
Other proposals suggested as part of the NATS package include closing Westlegate to general traffic, banning traffic except for buses in St Stephens Street, Red Lion Street, Theatre Street, Prince of Wales Road and Surrey Street.
The council says the major elements of the NATS will cost £145m, funded through borrowing by the county council, government grants and the Community Infrastructure Levy – a new contribution made by developers.
Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “It’s about opening up the city. We have got increasing congestion around the inner ring road and people rat- running through residential streets. Buses cannot operate properly and the air quality is not good.
“We view the NDR as something which will help us to remove that traffic from the city centre and enable improvements to walking and cycling, while retaining the historic environment as well as the quality of life. It’s really good for the city and will unlock the potential of places such as the airport, which will mean more jobs.
“It’s about linking employment areas to ensure the city is a better place to move around in.”
But the road has vociferous critics. More than 10,000 cards are being delivered to homes by the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, in conjunction with the Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk, Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) and Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth.
Those cards urge people to send a message to Norman Baker, parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport, urging him to stop this “devastating” road from being built.
They argue it will not ease congestion, but encourage more drivers to take to their cars.
They say the county council has not properly tested alternatives to the NDR and that it will divert money from more sustainable transport measures.
Denise Carlo, from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group (NNTAG), said: “Millions of pounds of public money have been spent whilst the council slashed rural bus services, cut park and ride facilities, axed Norwich bus station travel information desk and delayed many local road safety schemes.
“On top of this, the council aims to make an early grab for additional money for this road from the new local Community Infrastructure Fund, delaying, and even preventing, other essential community infrastructure such as schools.
“This is despite all the major developers saying that future growth in and around Norwich doesn’t depend on this road and Postwick Hub.
“It comes down to many people having to suffer the severe loss of valued services, whilst the council continues with this outdated vanity project.”
The public has an opportunity to comment on the bid until October 14. Comments can be made to the DfT by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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