'People won't come' - fears city shake-up will put off visitors

Artist's impression of revamped St Giles Street in Norwich

How St Giles Street could look if the 'Connecting the Norwich Lanes' project goes ahead. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Fears have been raised that a major multi-million pound shake-up of traffic in Norwich could mean people stay away from the city centre.

Almost 600 people and businesses have responded to Transport for Norwich's (TfN) consultation on a series of projects which would see millions spent to improve the Norwich Lanes.

It would include road closures, including making temporary changes in St Benedicts Street and Exchange Street permanent.

And, with consultation ending on Monday (August 9), the chairman of Norwich Film Festival, has raised his concerns over the potential impact.

John Gordon-Saker, chief executive of OPEN Youth Trust, speaks at the launch of the Stars of Norfolk

John Gordon-Saker. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

John Gordon-Saker, former chief executive of the OPEN youth venue, is concerned about the impact the scheme will have on shoppers, workers and visitors - and fears it will discourage them from coming into Norwich.

As director of the History of Advertising Trust and chair of Norwich Film Festival, Mr Gordon-Saker says he is always keen to promote the city as a destination for business, leisure and the arts.

But he said: "The promotion of cycling and walking is a lovely objective and, as a resident, it makes the city centre an attractive place.

"However, the government's recommendations don't necessarily take account of cities like Norwich that rely on its rural county for survival and I suspect TfN is taking things too far.

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"There needs to be a balance between enjoyment of space and losing trade and this scheme's road closures are designed to force traffic onto the already over-burdened inner and outer ring roads, which will just add to the existing queues and frustration of longer journey times.

"There seems no evidence to support this proposal and my question to TfN about the percentage of shoppers, workers and visitors who drive in from the county and whose spending is at risk has gone unanswered.

"Nobody seems bothered to forecast the impact, so I'm left asking what's the point in promoting Norwich if people from outside the city won't come?"

The Connecting the Norwich Lanes projects include:

  • Making the temporary exclusion of general traffic on St Benedicts Street and Exchange Street permanent.
  • Spending £1.2m to redesign Exchange Street so it becomes a "high-quality pedestrian priority" link between St Andrews Car Park and Norwich Market.
  • A £470,000 project so traffic has to turn left from Charing Cross into Duke Street - stopping eastbound traffic trips across the city centre.
  • A £1.8m bridge between Duke Street and St Georges Street to fill the final missing link in the city centre section of the River Wensum path.
  • A £1.75m scheme to widen footways, plant trees and provide parking and loading bays on both sides of St Giles Street.
  • £1.1m to widen footpaths in St Andrews Street, plant trees and install a two-way cycle track.
  • Removing the taxi rank from outside The Guildhall and moving it to St Peter's Street/Bethel Street, near City Hall.
Artist's impression of Norwich Riverside Walk bridge.

An artist's impression of the new bridge to connect the Riverside Walk from St Georges Street to Duke Street. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Council bosses have said £330,000 of mooted changes to the Grapes Hill roundabout, which would see some of its traffic lights removed and changes made to cycle routes and crossings, will ease the impact on the ring road.

And council leaders have urged people to have their say on the  proposals before the end of the consultation.

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council Member for Highways, Infrastructure and Transport. Picture: Dan

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, and chair of the Transport for Norwich Joint Committee said: “We’ve had a great response to our consultation so far.

"All the feedback we receive is really helpful in shaping our plans as we take them forward to the next stage so we’d love to hear from anyone else who wants to share their views before the closing date.”

Taxi drivers have already slammed plans to relocate their rank and to ban them from using Exchange Street.

And there are mixed views on making the closure of St Benedicts Street, which was introduced when coronavirus restrictions were initially eased last year, permanent.

Restaurants such as Pinnochio's say they have benefited from outdoor seating, but others have said it has been confusing when it comes to deliveries.

And Mark Hedge, who owns Cooke's Band Instruments, said customers need to be able to get to his shop and park to pick up heavy instruments.

The barriers in place to restrict traffic in St Benedicts Street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The barriers in place to restrict traffic in St Benedicts Street. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

The consultation is at www.norfolk.gov.uk/norwichlanes