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Bringing trams back to the streets of Norwich is a waste of time and money

PUBLISHED: 17:39 05 February 2019

Passing trams in Prince of Wales Road, Norwich shown on an old postcard sent in 1906. Photo: Archant

Passing trams in Prince of Wales Road, Norwich shown on an old postcard sent in 1906. Photo: Archant

Archant

Plans from City Hall big-wigs and politicians to claw back the trams from their rightful place in the graveyards of infrastructural history are the fanciful dreams of idealists.

Imagine, just for a second, what it would be like to see a tram attempting to go down Prince of Wales Road, squeezing through past the parked cars on Riverside Road, or ploughing through the buses and pedestrians on Castle Meadow.

How about being stuck behind a tram at rush hour as it creeps along the inner ring road past Chapelfield, stopping and blocking the road to pick up a small gaggle of passengers?

In order to create this perfect dream-scape Norwich would also inevitably see years of damaging and interminable roadworks and a crushing cost to the public purse.

One only has to look at the farce in Edinburgh as an example for what can go wrong when a perfectly lovely idea on paper becomes a living nightmare.

The city council in the Scottish capital, huge by comparison to Norwich, has spent nearly £1bn on their new tram system which more than 15 years on is still not completed and is unlikely to ever fulfil the original plans.

Yes, it is shiny and takes you directly from Princes Street to the Airport but a bus (with cheaper tickets) did and continues to do exactly the same.

Initially in 2003 the cost of the tram system, which involved digging up major roads throughout the city, was initially due to cost £375m, but delays and rising costs saw it reach more than £500m before contracts were signed and ballooned to £776m due to delays.

It is not even that complicated a route – and ended up barely half the length originally proposed.

Naturally, suggesting any extension to it is now political hari-kari.

Even Sheffield’s Supertrams, which began operating in 1994, and Manchester’s Metrolink, which opened in 1992, cost £240m and £145m respectively with millions more spend expanding and maintaining the networks in following years.

What about the potential route through? Any logic would suggest it would follow the historic route directly through the city and turn the market into a slalom course for the elderly and a death trap for cyclists.

But if you don’t rip up the centre of the city to allow for the best potential passenger numbers, why bother at all?

There is certainly not the demand to Norwich Airport to legitimise a direct link at great expense, and any link to the UEA would be dependent on it being cheaper than a bus, not something most tram systems can match.

A tram to Carrow Road would be a popular suggestion, but it is not as if the stadium is on the edge of the city like Murrayfield or Hillsborough in Edinburgh and Sheffield respectively.

Surely there are also better ways of improving the carbon emissions within the city centre than spending such gigantic sums on glorified trains?

Electric buses, not hybrids, for example, would instantly reduce the worst of the carbon emissions in the centre of town and would push the cost into the private sector.

Stopping car traffic from entering the centre of town and developing cheaper long-term solutions would be infinitely preferable.

In York, a city slightly bigger than Norwich, trams were briefly mooted but instead a park-and-ride with 24 fully electric busses was introduced instead.

It is, quite frankly, incomprehensible for councillors to be considering a tram scheme in Norwich.

It is nothing more than a waste of what precious little time and money the council have when much more credible alternatives could be brought forward.

Barrelling forward with trams would be a dereliction of duty to those councillors say they serve, and a council tax rise of any sort to pay for such a project would rightly be deemed as risible.

At this point in time the pressures of poverty and austerity biting back at council budgets, the absolute last thing that should be on any list is a transport vanity project.

Hopefully, the recent backing of a motion to secure support and lobby for trams to return to Norwich is no more than an exercise in distraction.

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