I’m fed up of wrestling my way in and out of Norfolk by road - when will we get a better A47?
PUBLISHED: 15:21 23 March 2017 | UPDATED: 16:54 23 March 2017
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I had to smile. Here we go again – it’s back in the news. The A47 needs to be dualled, and urgently too. Yet another appeal to fall on deaf ears?
But we can hope. We’re pretty much full-on professional hopers around these parts when it comes to our transport links. Government Ministers have been shuffled up and down our major routes, our MPs have lobbied, cajoled and persuaded yet there seems to have been a long-standing inequity about roads in our part of the world.
I’ve been wrestling my way in and out of Norfolk by road for years. Sit me in front of any Transport Secretary anytime you like, I can bore for England on this one. My experiences run long and deep!
A decade or so ago, I was returning to Norfolk one Friday evening along the old A11, before Elveden had been bypassed. I found myself on the end of a queue still miles from those notorious traffic lights. There was little forward progress and a constant stream of traffic coming the other way. I had no means of escape. I had to sit it out. A good hour or two later I’d crawled my way through the lights only to find, just on the other side, a broken-down lorry.
It was the height of summer and Norfolk was emptying on a Friday night to make room for the next happy holidaymakers. Getting past the lorry was like Russian Roulette. There were barely any gaps in the constant flow of on-coming cars to get around the obstacle. Norfolk was temporarily strangled. It seemed preposterous – a major trunk road and a vital artery neutralised.
But as we all know, that is now sorted. The Elveden bypass is a sheer joy and as I point out to bemused acquaintances around the country Norfolk is, at last, connected to everywhere else by a proper road – that’s if you want to go south west.
It’s north and west where we need the investment in extra tarmac. Back in the late Eighties I was driving all over the country as a Radio 4 reporter. It often took me up country in search of people to interview and that simply meant heading northwards to connect with the A1 before decent progress could be made. I recall tortuous journeys towards Newark which had me sub-40mph for a good deal of the journey in long, snaking convoys of traffic behind lorries and caravans on a very busy A47 and A17.
I dubbed the frustrating journey “Swineshead Revisited.” Short bursts of dual carriageway simply added to the angst as you started to make proper progress but only for a few miles. Anyway, my ultimate destination on one trip had me heading towards Grimsby, so I took the M18 and M180 east.
I was astonished. I was on a big motorway and it was virtually empty – I sped along marvelling at having three lanes virtually to myself. That was in stark contrast to the congested trunk roads out of Norfolk. It left me angry and I simply couldn’t reconcile how the north had been blessed with a network of motorways – more than they seemed to need if the M18/M180 was anything to go by - and how we were still in the motoring dark ages in Norfolk.
I also feel short-changed whenever I head along the Dereham bypass. Yes, there’s the lovely dualled section which funnels down into a straight, single carriageway. Tantalisingly, it seems as if there’s the space for another carriageway as the bridges seem wide enough – why didn’t they when it was built?
I do accept there are some people who champion the fact we’re a difficult place to get into and out of but I’m not one of them. We locals know to add an extra hour or two onto our journey to break free of East Anglia. Just ask any of our doughty Canary supporters.
I remember having to introduce the late Bernard Manning on stage in Norwich many moons ago. He used to have a chauffeur but clearly, they’d glanced at a map for the Norwich booking and calculated a certain number of inches of roads equated to a number of hours in the car. After all they were heading from the north west where motorway links with motorway or at least dual carriageway until East Anglia and specifically Norfolk. They hadn’t allowed for the single carriageways where your forward progress is dictated by the slowest vehicle in front. His calculation was about two hours out. He arrived late. Relieved he’d finally got there, I gave him a big build up. He came straight on stage and his first colourful utterance was “I’ve been travelling here since [expletive deleted] yesterday!” Eloquent it wasn’t, but it made the point.
Hang on, I think I’ve just put a massive pothole in my route upgrade argument: our poor roads nearly stopped Bernard Manning getting here...