Is it a car-free future for Norwich city centre?
What do you think of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre?
That was the question frequently posed by fictional DJ Alan Partridge which could one day become a reality, according to plans to ban cars from all cities across Europe.
The move forms part of an EU masterplan to cut CO2 emissions by 60pc over the next 40 years. The European Commission last month unveiled a 'single European transport area' aimed at enforcing 'a profound shift in transport patterns for passengers' by 2050.
Already in Norwich, however, there are many streets off-limits to cars, including Gentleman's Walk, London Street and Castle Meadow, and the city was the first to have a pedestrianised street. And just three years ago, a �1.4m project transformed St George's Street and St Andrew's Street area into one of the finest pedestrian areas in the city.
There are also plans in the pipeline to pedestrianise Westlegate and the idea of pedestrianising Prince of Wales Road on Friday and Saturday nights has been mooted on several occasions. Council officials have said it is difficult to say how feasible it would be to make Norwich car-free.
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Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council and Labour city councillor, said: 'Of course it sounds good on the face of it to have a car free city centre, but it really is not easy to achieve.
'Cities need people and we have to accommodate getting them in and out, the needs of business and the consequences of changes. It would be easy to get it wrong and drive business and shoppers out leaving the city centre like a ghost town.
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'However we are progressively improving the city centre and making it easier for those who want alternatives to cars. Closing Westlegate would be the catalyst for improving attractiveness for business and bus routes in and out of the city. The St Stephen's masterplan shows how that area would look with greater pedestrianisation in a business friendly new development for the area.'
Other cities in the UK have already taken steps to become free from cars. Earlier this year, Edinburgh revealed a blueprint for the next five years which includes taking away street furniture, making areas 'more people friendly' and having less traffic. There are also plans to pedestrianise large parts of the centre of Oxford, but these have currently been stalled.
Elsewhere, York has one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe, Sheffield's city centre is largely pedestrianised and Stevenage was the first to have a pedestrianised shopping centre in Britain in 1959.
Michael Dale, from Norwich Cycle Campaign, said: 'Norwich was the first city to have a pedestrianised street – London Street – but yet it's got left behind. You don't have to go too far to find other cities which have already gone down that route: look at Peterborough. The city centre would be more pleasant without cars. People do have to get to the city centre though so cars would have to go to the periphery for those who can't or won't cycle or walk or we would need a better public transport system.'
Adrian Ramsay, Green Party city councillor for Nelson ward, added: 'We clearly need to tackle congestion problems and other problems to do with large amounts of cars such as air quality and carbon emissions.
'The most important thing is to ensure we have a much better public transport system. I would like to see the city centre become more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists and the way to do that would be to pedestrianise more streets.'
Nationally, the move has been met with opposition with the UK transport minister Norman Baker saying the EU should not be 'involved' in individual cities' transport choices.
Motoring groups have conceded that there is a need to shift to alternative modes of transport, especially with the price of petrol, but a spokesman from the RAC, based in Norwich, added: 'The problem, at a time of government cuts and tough economic times for many people, is seeing where the massive investment to make this vision a reality is going to come from?'
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