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Five Norfolk market towns set for special studies to see if roads and transport can cope with new homes

PUBLISHED: 13:19 25 September 2017 | UPDATED: 07:47 26 September 2017

Dereham market place. Picture: Ian Burt

Dereham market place. Picture: Ian Burt

The first five Norfolk towns to be specially studied to see if they have good enough roads and transport to cope with thousands of new homes have been revealed.

Martin Wilby, Conservative county councillor. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives. Martin Wilby, Conservative county councillor. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Council bosses fear that, with 30,000 new homes due to be built in towns and villages within decades, pressures will be piled on to road networks.

With 190,000 people living in the county’s market towns, Norfolk County Council chiefs are keen to make sure they are “future fit” with transport networks which will support future growth.

In March, councillors agreed to a programme of studies looking at the impacts of growth in such towns and have now agreed eight which will be investigated during the first two years of the three year programme.

And of those eight, the first five which will studied over the next year are Dereham, Long Stratton, Thetford, North Walsham and Swaffham.

Ed Colman, Conservative county councillor for Swaffham. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives. Ed Colman, Conservative county councillor for Swaffham. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

The studies will explore the current transport problems and issues, including parking, congestion, accident statistics, how good public transport is, cycle networks and pedestrian routes.

And they will look at blueprints for development to figure out what the impact of new homes would have on the transport network in those towns.

The studies, which will each cost £20,000, would then establish what changes would be needed to cope with homes, how much improvements would cost.

They will also consider what developers would need to contribute towards such schemes or what other funding might be available to make improvements.

Swaffham town centre. Picture: Ian Burt Swaffham town centre. Picture: Ian Burt

Along with the five towns which have been set as priorities, Fakenham, Diss and Downham Market will also be studied within the next two years and others in the year after that.

The studies will consider whether there could need to be changes to existing roads, junctions and streets, new roads, and more routes for walking and cycling.

Martin Wilby, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s environment, development and transport committee, said: “We have got to plan for the next 20 to 30 years. We know towns are going to have growth and we need the infrastructure.

“Part of this will be about trying to solve the current problems but also about having long term plans for how we will prevent future problems.”

Spotlight: Swaffham

Swaffham was a late addition to the first tranche of towns to be studied - after county councillor Ed Colman convinced colleagues it was important to include it.

Mr Colman said: “It was vital for the town, given where we are with our neighbourhood plan and with the air quality problem.

“Air quality in the town centre has been getting worse for several years and readings have started to exceed legal limits on a few occasions.

“Breckland Council, the county and the town council are working on an air quality management action plan and some money might be available to help.”

Conservative councillor Mr Colman added: “We don’t want to do anything to stop the footfall in the town, but it’s about sustainability.

“With the neighbourhood plan and the air quality plan going on, I felt it was really important that Swaffham was included in the network improvement study.

“It gives us a chance to combine it all together.”

Spotlight: Long Stratton

With ongoing discussions about the long-awaited Long Stratton bypass, the town could be in for major changes in the years ahead.

The town’s population was just under 4,400 according to the 2011 census, with 415 new homes built between 2001 and 2011.

But it looks set for major growth, with Norfolk Homes having held exhibitions over the summer outlining their plans for 1,800 extra homes.

Developer contributions from those homes would be key to the town finally getting the bypass which people have been demanding or years.

A planning application is due to be lodged for the homes later this year, but there are calls for the bypass to be built before the homes.

Long Stratton resident Ruth Weanie said, when viewing the proposals at an exhibition in the summer: “The infrastructure in Long Stratton is at breaking point.

“For the sake of the traffic, we need a bypass but not houses first and bypass later.”

Spotlight: Dereham

“Chronic congestion is experienced on a regular, routine basis in many towns, including Dereham,” according to the report which convinced councillors the town should be one of the first to be studied.

In fact, the council said a study was effectively already under way in the town because of the extent of work which has been going on there to explore the issues.

The town, with a population of 18,609 in 2011, was second only to Downham Market in terms of houses completed between 2001 and 2016, with just under 1,600 new homes built.

And the council report states: “The neighbourhood plan at Dereham is also suggesting a significant scale of growth over and above that included in the current local plan”.

And, with 10pc of retail units in the town centre empty, councillors want to consider how transport changes might help support the town’s economy.

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