What will Norwich’s transport system look like in 2040?
PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 February 2019 | UPDATED: 07:39 14 February 2019
Everyone has a view on traffic in Norwich and how it could be improved. But will the city’s transport system look very different in the years to come? As part of our Future of Norwich series, Dan Grimmer reports.
The past few years have seen major changes in transport around Norwich, but the decades ahead could see the city further transformed.
The Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR), which was years in the planning, might have been the biggest single project, but the city’s streets have also seen major changes.
Traffic can no longer use St Stephens Street and Rampant Horse Street, while there have been major revisions to the likes of Grapes Hill, Chapel Field North, Ber Street, Tombland and, currently, Prince Of Wales Road.
New bus lanes have been created to speed up public transport, while the Push The Pedalways project continues to see improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.
But what could happen in the next 20 years or so?
No debate about transport in Norwich would be complete without considering whether it’s time for a revival of trams.
The Norwich Tramway system served the city for 35 years, with the initial 15-mile network, which opened on Monday, July 1900, later extending into the suburbs, with 17.5 miles of connections.
But the rise of buses saw the system closed down, with the final tram entering the Silver Road depot on Tuesday, December 10, 1935, with passengers, staff and gathering crowds bidding farewell to the last vehicle with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne.
A recent report put together by civic watchdog the Norwich Society suggested that the possibility of a tram route from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, through the city centre and to the railway station, should be appraised.
Paul Burall, from the society, said: “New tram routes should not be dismissed because of outdated preconceptions. We’re not suggesting that traditional trams should be reintroduced throughout Norwich.” Mr Burall said the new-style trams would use the latest technology, powered by batteries, with a single guidance rail running on rubber tyres.
He pointed to the example of Kansas in the United States, which opened a free to use tram route in 2016 which was funded entirely by local businesses - who understood the increased custom it would create made the investment worthwhile.
And Norwich City Council recently backed a joint Green/Labour motion calling for trams to form a part of future thinking for the city.
David Raby, Green city councillor, said UK cities such as Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester and Edinburgh already had tram networks, while cities even smaller than Norwich had them in other parts of Europe.
He said: “It is very important to get this on record so we can take it to the Greater Norwich Growth Board, the county council, our MPs and national government.”
For an example of a city comparable to Norwich which is looking to trams, we need to go no further than the neighbouring county.
Cambridge is seriously investigating the possibility of introducing what is known as the Cambridge Autonomous Metro.
That hugely ambitious scheme would see autonomous ‘optically guided’ trams on rubber wheels, partly running through underground tunnels.
It would not come cheap. Consultants believe the system could cost between £1.5bn to £1.7bn, running through the city centre to towns such as Haverhill and Cambourne.
But £1m towards the development of the scheme has been set aside in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s budget for the upcoming year.
A major sticking point for any new tram scheme, however, would be the cost - and there is also likely to be some disruption during construction, despite advances in design meaning it would not cause anywhere near the problems creating a route would have done in years gone by.
Could workplace charging help raise money for a scheme, the cost of which would run into millions?
The city council motion called for support for such a scheme from MPs, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and the government - urging them to make the process to kickstart such schemes simpler.
In the Cambridge example, City Deal money could play a part in the scheme. Norwich has its own City Deal with the government, which grants it certain powers, so that could potentially be a source.
But councillors in Cambridge acknowledge that private investment would almost certainly be needed to add to money allocated by the combined authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership.
Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth and vice-chair of the Norwich Highways Agency Committee said trams were an aspiration for the city, but that they would inevitably need private investment to become reality.
He said: “It will require changes in government policy if they were to have any chance of happening and it really will depend on whether the investment is there. We would be looking for support from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, but even that would only make up a small part and we would need to look for private investment.
“But the technology has improved and is improving all the time. You don’t need those overhead cables any more. They could be autonomously driven. We wanted to make sure the option all options are looked at and we should not rule them out.”
The Norwich Society’s ideas for the future of the city included looking into whether there could be one or more ‘park and ride’ rail stations on Norwich’s outskirts.
They have suggested four potential locations for such a station - Thickthorn, Dunston, Postwick, Dussindale and Forncett.
They say a station at Thickthorn, with good parking, would enable people travelling to Cambridge, Peterborough and further afield to catch a train without needing to drive into the city centre.
And it would also enable local commuters to park and travel into Norwich by rail in a matter of minutes, rather than a frustrating road journey.
One at Dunston, they say, would serve those travelling to Ipswich and London Liverpool Street and could be easily accessed from the existing junction of the A47 and A140.
They said Dussindale probably represents the most efficient location for a new station, running between a large housing estate and one of Norwich’s major business parks.
In fact, talks have been held between Broadland District Council and Network Rail about the possibility of a new station at Broadland Business Park.
The new rail halt on the Bittern Line was mooted to provide better links for those working at the business park and living in new homes likely to take shape in the area in the years ahead.
If it were to go ahead, it would be the first built new station built in Norfolk for more than 25 years.
The Norwich Society also suggests Postwick as a possible station, with the rail line next to the existing park and ride facility and the Postwick junction which connects to the NDR and A47.
And they also back the Railfuture East Anglia group’s proposal to reopen the Forncett station on the Liverpool Street line, three miles from Long Stratton - a town where new housing is earmarked for up to 10,000 people.
Mr Burall acknowledged an operator would have to be convinced it was profitable, but said: “You could point to Cambridge North, which recently opened with passenger numbers double what were expected.
“It’s about reducing the car journeys into Norwich to catch a train. It’s bonkers for them to be clogging up the city by driving in just to catch a train to get out again.”
The same Norwich City Council motion over trams also made the case for a light rail transport system.
The Department for Transport has signalled that it would welcome rail providers tabling light rail scheme proposals across the country.
The government is keen to add to the existing systems, such as the Manchester Metrolink, Docklands Light Railway in London and the Tyne and Wear Metro.
Mr Stonard said such a scheme would, once again depend on a company believing that it would be able to make enough money from passengers in the city.
He said: “I think rail operators would have to be convinced there was a market for it. And there’s a question over whether a business park will still serve the same purpose in 2040 as it does at the moment.
“I’m not sure a lot of the technology businesses which are starting up will want to be on a 1990s business park. I think they’re more likely to want to be somewhere a bit more edgy and vibrant.”
The idea of rapid bus transit routes across Norwich has been on the cards for years.
In fact, changes were made in Dereham Road almost a decade ago for one of the schemes mooted in six corridors.
But it could become a reality if Greater Norwich’s Transforming Cities project, which is in the running to benefit from a share of £840m of government funding, gets the go-ahead.
At the heart of the Norwich bid are three key bus routes, connecting Norwich International Airport to Broadland Business Park, Wymondham to Sprowston and Easton to Rackheath.
The airport to Broadland Business Park corridor is seen as key to connect the deprived estates at Mile Cross and Catton Grove to employment around the airport and 135,000 sqm of existing and 100,000 sqm of planned employment space at Broadland Business Park, as well as learning at the new International Aviation Academy.
The Wymondham to Sprowston corridor would connect people in the deprived area around Sewell and those moving into 5,110 new homes at Wymondham, Hethersett and Cringleford to employment at Norwich Research Park and learning at the University of Easy Anglia. It would also link up with Wymondham train station and Thickthorn Park and Ride.
And the Easton to Rackheath corridor would connect people in the deprived Bowthorpe, Larkman, Marlpit, West Earlham and Heartsease neighbourhoods, and those moving into almost 15,000 new homes earmarked at Easton, Costessey and
Broadland Growth Triangle, to employment at several industrial estates, the food enterprise zone and learning at Easton and Otley College.
The corridor would also link up to Costessey Park and Ride and Rackheath/Salhouse train station.
The idea is to create a network of new ‘mobility hubs’, where electric buses could be charged, there would be shelters with seating, wifi and mobile charging, cycle parking, car club cars, bike hire, liftsharing and cafés or shops.
The councils say smart ticketing, cleaner vehicles, real-time information and faster journey times would all be made possible with the cash, along with zero-emission buses.
Mr Stonard said: “Norwich is going to grow, we know that and we will need to people to be able to move around the city easily.
“It’s absolutely vital that, as the city grows, the places where people live, work and socialise are all connected as efficiently as possible.”
ELECTRIC CARS AND CYCLING
In 2040, the ban on the sale of all purely petrol or diesel-driven cars will come in, although it could yet be sooner, with the government under pressure to introduce it by 2032.
Whether Norwich will have followed other cities and brought in a ban on such vehicles from the city centre before then remains to be seen.
Mr Stonard said: “I think we’d want to see what government policy was and how those sorts of vehicles are phased out. I am sure there will be people who do want a ban brought in before then. But it’s hard to speculate on just what the circumstances will be in the years ahead.”
If hybrid and electric cars are to become the norm, then they will need to be matched by a sharp rise in the number of charging points in the city.
Over recent years, new ones at Norwich railway station, Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Norwich City Council’s Rose Lane car park have been installed, but more will be required.
Some cities have already gone car free and there have been calls for that to happen in Norwich. Oslo in Norway aims to be car free by 2019 and has already paved the way by removing hundreds of parking spaces to discourage motorists.
However, that is a city which already had an extensive rapid transit system serving more than a hundred stations, before the move to ban cars.
Mr Stonard said: “I know it’s being done in Oslo and they have no regrets about it. But our view is that we need to put in an alternative before we consider that.
“We have done a lot of work to take traffic out of the city centre and make it a more pleasant environment for people there.
“All the evidence shows, contrary to what some county councillors think, that if you want to increase footfall and have a vibrant city centre, the way to do it is to create car free spaces, just as we have.”
There’s also the question of whether driverless cars will have gone beyond an aspiration to being commonplace by 2040.
Safety concerns are still being addressed, but there have been trials in the UK over the past three years.
And Paul Burall, from the Norwich Society, said he believed they would not just be common by 2040 - but the only types of car on the road.
He said: “My guess is that every car will be driverless by 2040. The manufacturers are certainly expecting that to be the case. They are definitely on the way.”
Mr Burall said roads would not need to be altered, but there could be an issue when it comes to pedestrians. He said: “The issue could be that, because pedestrians would expect the cars to automatically stop, they could bring them grinding to a halt by crossing roads in the wrong place.
“There could need to be some sort of jaywalking rule, so that they only cross roads in designated places.”
When it comes to cycling, the multi-million pound Push The Pedalways project has brought change, with new bike lanes and improvements among changes.
Expect that investment to continue - so long as external grants can be secured - with cycling promoted as a healthier, cheaper and environmentally friendly mode of transport.
It took years for the NDR, now known as the Broadland Northway, to go from planning to reality.
And Norfolk County Council hopes joining it to the A47 - known as the Western Link - does not take so long to come to fruition.
Potential routes for the road have been put forward, welcomed by businesses but opposed by campaigners unhappy at the emphasis on road-building, particularly over such as sensitive area as the Wensum Valley.
And it remains to be seen whether the government will stump up any cash for the project.
However, the government is definitely paying for improvements to the Thickthorn roundabout as part of its £300m investment in the A47.
Highways England says that has the potential to make a major difference to how traffic moves around Norwich. They say that, by rerouting strategic traffic away from the existing junction, it will solve the problem with congestion which frustrates drivers at peak times. Work is due to start in 2020.
• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking here is recommended.
• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).