St Benedicts traffic ban on track to become permanent

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street.
Byline: Sonya Duncan

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street. Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

A controversial temporary traffic ban on a city centre street looks set to become permanent - to the delight and despair of businesses on the road. 

The majority of traffic in Norwich's St Benedicts Street was banned last summer.

The move proved popular with hospitality businesses which were thrown a lifeline as they struggled to operate at reduced capacity due to Covid. 

However other businesses on the road have said the lack of clarity over the ban has caused them problems with deliveries and pickups. 

Norfolk County Council has now confirmed that the ban is set to become permanent from December with consultations happening next month. 

Councillor Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, and chair of the Transport for Norwich joint committee said: “A consultation on proposals to make permanent the temporary removal of traffic from Exchange Street and St Benedicts Street was agreed at the last meeting of our joint committee.

"This is just one aspect of a wider forthcoming consultation on the ‘Connecting the Norwich Lanes’ programme of measures.

"Together, these projects aim to make it safer and easier to get around on foot or by bike, support opportunities for outdoor hospitality and improve air quality."

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The move was wholeheartedly welcomed by Rio Dilia, who owns Pinnochio's on the street and has benefitted from outdoor seating.

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street.
Gonario Vilia from Pinocchi

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street. Gonario Vilia from Pinocchios Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He said: "It has been a real bonus for us, and especially as we head into summer the offer of sitting outside is a  hit with our customers. 

"It also gives the street a really nice feel. I'm from Sardinia and it's entirely normal to have streets lines with tables. With people missing travel it's lovely to be able to offer that same feeling here.

"I look down the road on a sunny evening and see people sitting out with a coffee or a glass of wine and enjoying themselves, it feels continental." 

But although he predicted the move would be made permanent, he agreed that further clarity was needed: "I know that some businesses on the road have struggled with deliveries.

"I appreciate although it's been a success for us some people have lost out - we ourselves rely a lot on taxis and this has caused some confusion for drivers. 

"When this first happened last year it was quite confusing - I think the council has done a good job with the more permanent barriers since then, but there are a few more things which need to be ironed out." 

Mark Hedges, who owns Cooke's Band Instruments further down the road,  claims he is spending hours each day investigating the impact it could have on his firm.  

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street.
Mark Hedge, manager of Cook

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street. Mark Hedge, manager of Cookes Band Instruments Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He said: "It's not even about the road being 'pedestrianised' - because it hasn't been.

"There's just so much confusion about whether or not you can drive down the street, and there's diversion signs around the area which have fallen down and made the problem even worse. The worst case scenario is that it stays as it is.

"I look up the road and I see people sitting outside the hospitality venues which is great for them. But they're not the only businesses on the road.

"If we even had a couple of parking spaces given to us so that people could pick up heavy items or nip in, that would be great. We're playing by the rules and telling our customers there's no parking, and yet there's always cars in the street. It just needs to be clearer."

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street.
Byline: Sonya Duncan

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street. Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Councillor Wilby sought to reassure businesses, adding: “The consultation is due to launch in mid-July when we will be asking for feedback from local businesses, stakeholders and members of the public.

"All residents and businesses within the area impacted by the proposals will be written to directly and we will also be running a wider campaign to raise awareness of the consultation and encourage people to have their say on the future of this fantastic city asset and important destination for residents and visitors alike.”

From an independent perspective, experts have said that a push towards pedestrianisation is inevitable.

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street.
Byline: Sonya Duncan

St Benedicts will continue to have outside dining areas down the street. Byline: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at think tank Centre for Cities, said: “Pedestrianisation will have had big benefits in terms of air pollution for the streets that have removed cars, and has been a much-needed help for restaurants and bars that have been able serve more customers safely outside. I understand though that not everyone will be happy.

“We've just run a big experiment for the last 14 months. Now is the time to evaluate that experiment to see if we should make these changes permanent.”

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