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How to stop the NDR ruining the Wensum Valley

PUBLISHED: 08:24 07 November 2017

A stretch of the NDR was open to cyclists ahead of the opening to motorists. The Wensum Valley Alliance protesting at the event.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

A stretch of the NDR was open to cyclists ahead of the opening to motorists. The Wensum Valley Alliance protesting at the event. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Opinion: Last week columnist Nick Conrad spoke up for Norwich’s Northern Distributor Road. Green Party councillor Denise Carlo begs to differ.

If you love the Norfolk countryside, then avoid the Nothern Distributor Road round Norwich as your heart will break.

At the recent NDR cycle extravaganza, I lamented its desecration and was told that the NDR and tree planting are better for wildlife than barley monoculture.

“Surely the sane approach would be to make agriculture, transport and the economy better for people and wildlife rather than bury precious land under tarmac?” I replied.

Toddlers pedalled their trikes along the glistening coal-black serpent unaware of the dangers to come. Soon, motorists will be hurtling along, their vehicles spewing out toxic particulates so damaging to young lungs, hearts and brains.

The NDR will compromise our children’s future in other ways too. By increasing Norfolk’s transport carbon emissions by 6%, the NDR takes us in the wrong direction on climate change. Last week the United Nations warned that, unless the world steps up its game, we are heading for a catastrophic 3.2 degrees C temperature rise. Among the many dire consequences, our children could witness the submergence of King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth and the Broads.

The next generation will shoulder the NDR’s financial burden which has jumped from £148.5 million to £205 million. Norfolk County Council’s £75 million contribution will steal money from vital services, hitting people on low incomes hardest. Last month, Norfolk councillors voted to cut £500,000 from bus services used by college students and older people, while committing £1 million to make the case for extending the NDR across the Wensum valley.

Nor will the land along the NDR remain rural. Unlike the Norwich Southern bypass, the NDR has been designed as a development road. Whole parishes along its course, between Postwick and the airport, as far out as Salhouse, have been allocated for thousands of houses and numerous business and industrial parks. West of the Cromer Road, infill development along the NDR is inevitable and will bring more traffic, noise and air pollution. We need homes, work and transport, but they must be planned in ways that minimise their environmental impact.

We kid ourselves that nature always recovers. What we are seeing instead are dramatic crashes in populations of all animals, birds, fish and even insects. Once common species and their habitats have become rare. Major contributory factors are chemical use on an industrial scale and urbanisation.

Never satisfied, local politicians demand more of the same. There isn’t a single town in Britain which hasn’t lobbied for major new roads for their area out of misplaced fears that local jobs could move elsewhere. But as new faster roads can attract businesses in, so they can suck businesses out, as companies seek to take advantage by centralising their operations and shedding loyal staff.

Dominant voices perceive Norfolk as a ‘backwater’ and aspire to see Norwich grow to the size of Nottingham. They push for A47 dualling at a cost of hundreds of millions. They long for endless employment parks, retails warehouses and airport expansion. They dream of dragging the NDR across the beautiful River Wensum, one of Europe’s most important chalk rivers.

To inflate the traffic case for a Wensum valley crossing that Norfolk County Council previously told the planning inspectors wasn’t needed, Broadland Council has allocated land at Easton for a 100-acre lorry-based industrial food ‘hub’ and it is eyeing up nearby Honingham for major housing expansion.

In September, colleagues and I joined residents of Ringland, a pretty village in the Wensum valley to view the most likely routes of any NDR extension. Gazing across the meandering Wensum, fringed by wet meadows, we could see the NDR’s dark shadow poised menacingly on the valley shoulder, like an army gathering for attack.

A Wensum valley crossing isn’t inevitable. Environmental campaigners are arguing for an alternative that involves ironing out kinks in the B1535 HGV route between the A1067 and A47 and prioritising public transport for linking new growth areas and inner suburbs to the city centre. This would cost a fraction of the £160 million for a proposed crossing and leave the Wensum valley and its wildlife intact for future generations.

Extending the NDR through one of Norfolk’s natural treasures would be a ‘road to ruin’. Do we carry on down this track, selling off our children’s future and crushing the life-force from Norfolk’s green lungs, or can we go in a new direction and choose ways of living more lightly on our unique planet?

Denise Carlo is a Green Party councillor on Norwich City Council

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