Need for extension could mean Norwich roadworks continue for longer
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Multi-million pound roadworks around Norwich could continue beyond next spring - because council bosses may need to ask the government for an extension to get further schemes done.
When the government awarded Norfolk County Council £32m through the Transforming Cities funding pot two years ago, Whitehall officers said the money needed to be spent by March next year.
That deadline is the reason why so many roadwork schemes have been happening around Norwich at similar times.
Work is under way or has been completed on a number of schemes in and around Norwich, which council officers say will cut pollution, speed up buses and make the areas better for pedestrians and cyclists.
They include St Stephens Street, the area around Norwich Railway Station, Tombland, South Park Avenue and Grapes Hill.
But other schemes, including a £4.4m redesign of the roundabout on Plumstead Road in Heartsease, have yet to begin and the clock is ticking to get the money spent by the deadline.
However, there is a process whereby councils can ask the Department for Transport for permission to change the delivery timescale - and County Hall officers are likely to need to go down that route.
Reasons councils can give to seek approval for timescale changes include the need to avoid highway clashes between different schemes, design and consultation work being undertaken over a longer time period or if a scheme's cost has changed.
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Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport at Conservative-controlled Norfolk County Council, said: "The money we have secured through the Transforming Cities Fund represents one of the largest investments in sustainable transport Norwich has ever seen.
"We have already delivered schemes that have improved key areas of the city, including Norwich Bus Station, Grapes Hill roundabout, Tombland and much more besides.
“We are constantly monitoring our schedule of upcoming improvement schemes to determine when the work should be carried out.
"Where we believe the improvements will need to be scheduled beyond March 2023, we will write to the Department for Transport to notify them of our plans.
"This is a common process for funding like this and we believe that our track record of delivering improvements will ensure the government is confident we can continue to do so.”
Mixed views over roadworks
Bus company bosses have welcomed the Transforming Cities work, saying it has sped up services.
They say major schemes in Grapes Hill, Thorpe Road and Cromer Road/Aylsham Road have sped up bus journeys and helped get passengers back on to public transport following Covid lockdowns.
But the £6.1m revamp of St Stephens - where work is due to be finished in the autumn - has come in for particular criticism from shoppers, businesses and politicians.
Traders have said the work has cut their takings, while shoppers have been frustrated at their routes being blocked by construction work.
And Brian Watkins, Liberal Democrat group leader at County Hall recently urged the council to speed up roadworks, saying it was damaging Norwich's title as 'A Fine City'.
What is happening with the Heartsease roundabout?
The Heartsease Fiveways roundabout is one of the trickiest in Norwich to negotiate for drivers - let alone pedestrians.
Plumstead Road intersects with St William's Way, Heartsease Lane and Harvey Lane at this busy ring road junction.
In 2017, it had the second highest number of pedestrian casualties of any junction in Norwich.
Campaigners have long called for changes to be made to the roundabout, so the announcement it would be improved through Transforming Cities cash was warmly welcomed.
Such schemes have parallel cycle and zebra crossings on each arm, giving pedestrians and cyclists priority over drivers.
The council said, last summer, that a preferred scheme would be revealed later in 2021, but that did not happen.
However, this week, a council spokesman said: "We are currently developing draft proposals which will seek to improve crossing facilities on all arms of the roundabout which we hope to share with the public later this year."