£6.1m shopping street revamp will take half of 2022 to complete
- Credit: Norfolk County Council
Work on a £6.1m revamp of one of Norwich's main shopping streets will start in the new year - and will continue for half of 2022.
But the work, due to begin in January and earmarked to last for six months, will bring considerable disruption.
Bus stops on the street will be suspended for six months, while buses will only run one-way - from the Queens Road roundabout to Castle Meadow - because the other lane will need to be closed to protect the safety of construction workers.
On some occasions over the six month construction period, the road, which is not open to general traffic, will need to be closed off completely.
Norfolk County Council, which is using some of the £32m awarded to Greater Norwich through the government's Transforming Cities scheme for the project, has been talking to bus companies to figure out how to keep public transport moving during the work.
While stops on St Stephens Street will all be suspended, buses will instead pick and and drop off passengers in Castle Meadow and the city's bus station.
Shoppers will still be able to use the street, but safety barriers will be in place in some areas and some sections of the footpath will be off-limits while work is done.
A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said: “This project is about reducing delays experienced by buses due to the current road layout, while also improving links for people walking to the bus station and city centre as a whole.
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“Construction of this large-scale scheme will inevitably cause disruption but we are working closely with bus companies and our contractor, Tarmac, to reduce this as much as possible.
"Work taking place is mainly within St Stephens Street itself, which is closed to general traffic, and so isn’t due to impact significantly on the wider network.
"It marks the second phase of improvements to the area and ties in with the project nearing completion at the bus station and on Surrey Street.”
Bus company bosses said, while the work will disrupt services, in the long-term, it would bring "significant improvements".
Paul Martin, commercial manager at First Eastern Counties said: "First Eastern Counties, along with other bus operators, are working in partnership with Norfolk County Council to deliver significant improvements for bus passengers through a variety of projects funded by the Transforming Cities scheme.
"The changes that will be made in St Stephens Street from January 2022, will benefit both buses, as access to stops will be much better, allowing a quicker and smoother transition that will reduce delays and passengers, with improvements made to waiting facilities and the entire streetscape.
"Importantly, the changes will also make it far easier for passengers with reduced mobility to access public transport at this key location.
"Operators have been working very closely with the county council to minimise the effect on passengers whilst the scheme is delivered, and to help reduce the overall construction time, we have all agreed to suspend the stops on St Stephens Street.
"All other stops in the city centre will be available and we are currently finalising the details of any changes that may be required and this will be communicated to passengers toward the end of the year."
The new 'sawtooth bus bays' - where the pavement is made jagged to create spaces for buses to pull in and out - had come in for criticism from Norwich Cycling Campaign.
But council bosses said it made it easier for buses to pull away and evidence from similar schemes in Cambridge had not shown an increase in incidents.
Members of the Transforming Cities joint committee, made up of city, county and district councillors, unanimously agreed to the scheme in the summer, following public consultation.
It seems like a different Norwich road is being dug up every other week.
Council leaders had hoped to get even more money than was made available through the Transforming Cities scheme.
Transport for Norwich officers originally hoped to get between £75m to £162m, but missed out on the initial award of cash and had to resubmit their case to secure the £32m.
Other schemes the money awarded is paying for include the current work to revamp Grapes Hill roundabout and recent work to make changes to South Park Avenue in Eaton.
Future projects include long-called for changes to Heartsease Fiveways roundabout and the mooted Connecting The Lanes project in Norwich city centre.
The merits of such schemes will be the subject of debate - and some councillors have already said the lower than sought sum awarded means the work is far from "transformative".
But council bosses and leaders say the projects will bring improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and bus passengers.