Norwich city centre street car ban back on track

Sarah HallLong-standing proposals to pedestrianise one of the main roads through Norwich were today put firmly back in the spotlight - to the delight of business bosses who have been calling for it to be closed to traffic.Sarah Hall

Long-standing proposals to pedestrianise one of the main roads through Norwich were today put firmly back in the spotlight - to the delight of business bosses who have been calling for it to be closed to traffic.

Supporters of plans to close Westlegate were given fresh hope after Norfolk County Council officers acknowledged the level of support for the move and included the idea of shutting the street in a key document shaping the future of transport in the city.

For years councillors have been at loggerheads over closure of the road, with two previous attempts to do so scuppered in 2005 and 2006.

But the plans have been given fresh impetus by a report, demonstrating how much backing there is for the scheme, which has been drawn up at County Hall to go before county councillors on Wednesday.

Steve Morphew, Norwich City Council leader, said it signalled 'the beginning of the end' of the Westlegate saga, adding that closing the street to traffic would also mean the unpopular eyesore, Westlegate Tower, could finally be pulled down.

Westlegate's proposed closure is outlined in the Norwich Area Transportation Strategy Implementation Plan, a 20-year blueprint for the transport system in and around the city.

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Consultation on the strategy was carried out between October and November last year and congestion was raised as a key issue which needed sorting.

Businesses and stakeholders said the Northern Distributor Road (NDR) would bring the greatest benefit to the area but also backed changes to where traffic travels in the city centre.

The report by county council officers states: 'Proposals to change city centre circulation and restricted access for general traffic on some roads are, to a significant extent, dependent on the capacity created by the NDR.

'However initial assessments indicate some works could be implemented in advance of the NDR. These include the closure of Westlegate and Gaol Hill / Exchange Street to general traffic.

'Feedback from stakeholders indicates closure of Westlegate will have a significant positive impact on investment and will create the conditions for real improvements for pedestrians.

'As part of the Westlegate works, further consideration will need to be given to works required to make Chapelfield North two-way for buses and general access as locations such as the Theatre Royal and Chapelfield Shopping Centre have specific requirements in terms of coach access and delivery of goods.'

Richard Marks, general manager of John Lewis, one of a number of businesses which wrote a letter to the county council urging the closure of Westlegate, said: 'We welcome the proposals to progress the pedestrianisation onto the stage once again.'

Proposals to pedestrianise Westlegate first went to the Joint Highways Agency Committee, made up of city and county councillors, in 2005.

On that occasion Conservative county councillors Adrian Gunson and Leslie Mogford and Labour city councillor Brenda Ferris voted against the plans for an experimental closure.

The following year, another bid failed when Mr Gunson and Conservative county councillor Tony Adams voted against the move which Labour city councillors, now in favour of the closure, said demonstrated why the city should get unitary status and control its own affairs.

Mr Morphew said today that the recognition that Westlegate's closure could boost the city should help make the case for a fresh look at closing it.

He said: 'I think this appears to be the beginning of the end for this saga and we will be pushing the county council to bring it in as quickly as possible.

'It's in the best interests of users of the city centre and will make a lot of difference to businesses. I think it would also bring forward the day when the eyesore which is Westlegate Tower can come down and hit the ground.'

But Mr Gunson said he still had concerns over the knock-on effect its closure, plus suggestions that St Stephen's Street could be closed to all traffic but buses, would have on other streets.

He said: 'There's no doubt that the shops believe closing it would encourage pedestrians who do not go up Westlegate from St Stephen's would do so and there's lots of people in the city who want it closed.

'But I have to say, some of the Conservatives, including myself, think you'd have to consider the cumulative impact of closing that and St Stephen's and the extra pressure that would put on places such as Queen's Road and Chapelfield.

'I know there are some views among officers that it won't be a problem, but those of us who use those roads are not totally convinced.

'I think what is being said in the report is an officer's view that it could be considered, but I am not sure any further evidence has been presented to suggest our views are unfounded.

'I am not saying never, but we have got to keep the sequencing right in order for it to work. Whether we can do Westlegate and St Stephen's might be a step too far.'

While a decision on Westlegate will not be made at Wednesday's meeting, councillors will be asked to agree that part of the strategy should be to discourage traffic from driving through the city centre, where appropriate 'in order to deliver a more pedestrian friendly environment'.

Do you think Westlegate should be pedestrianised? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email