May 18 2013 Latest news:
Friday, March 22, 2013
An ambitious scheme to transform the way traffic uses Norwich city centre has been given the go-ahead, to the delight of bus operators, business bosses and tourism chiefs.
The £1.45m scheme, will ban general traffic from St Stephens Street and part of Surrey Street, while making Chapel Field North two-way. Work will begin this summer.
Council officers have trumpeted the ‘Transport for Norwich’ scheme as a way to ease congestion in the centre of Norwich.
It has been given a warm welcome by bus operators, who say it will improve journey times, reliability and punctuality for their services.
Business leaders say less traffic will make the city centre a more pleasant place and will encourage economic growth, while tourism bosses say it will help make Norwich more attractive to tourists.
But the green light for the traffic shake-up has disappointed campaigners who were not happy with the changes to Chapel Field North.
And Tony Adams, chairman of the Highways Agency Committee, which approved the plans yesterday, voted against the changes, saying he feared they could lead to shoppers turning their backs on the city centre and heading to out-of-town superstores instead.
The Conservative county councillor for Drayton and Horsford said he feared making it harder for people to drive into the city centre would mean people from the fringes of Norwich would stick to superstores such as Asda in Hellesdon, Sainsbury’s in Thorpe St Andrew and Tesco at Sprowston. He said: “My concern is that the more you discourage traffic from the city centre, the more people from the fringe areas will not use the city centre.
“I recently visited Ipswich, where they have pedestrianised everything and there is row upon row of empty shops. I do not want that for Norwich in any shape or form.”
Mr Adams had said he was against the Chapel Field North proposals and in favour of the St Stephens scheme and wanted to split the vote.
But officers advised him against that approach, and the vote was taken on the whole scheme. The committee has four voting members and the scheme was agreed by three votes to one.
Campaigners against the proposals, who formed the Chapel Field Action Group, had raised concerns over pollution, safety, an increase in lorries and coach numbers and the impact on Chapelfield Gardens.
The scheme was due to be approved at a meeting in January, but councillors, having heard the concerns from that group, agreed to defer their decision.
That was to allow alternative plans put forward by campaigners to be considered and to enable officers to respond to claims that the traffic and bus use figures used to justify the changes were inaccurate.
However councillors decided to push ahead with the original proposals, after hearing from officers that, in their view, the alternative plans did not stack up.
Denise Carlo, Green city councillor for Nelson, said she hoped the public would be reassured that there were no plans to damage Chapelfield Gardens, contrary to some claims.
She said: “In my view, Chapelfield Gardens are safe and will be enhanced. There will be a short piece of concrete to extend an existing path where people walk already.”
The committee also agreed not to remove the hedge along the Chapel Field North in the park and to widen and level the footpath on the opposite side of Chapel Field North, with the footpath next to the park set to be removed as part of the project.
After the meeting, Peter Jackson, from the Chapel Field Action Group, said: “We are disappointed but not surprised. Our concern is that the councillors have agreed to do something because the officers said the figures were fine, so the figures must be fine.”
Having taken issue with the traffic data and bus use modelling used to justify the plans, Mr Jackson said: “We had demonstrated that the data was far from fine.”
Stefan Gurney, director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, said the changes would bring an economic boost to the city and said he did not agree with the chairman’s claims it would put shoppers off from heading into Norwich.
He said: “The out of town superstores might provide free parking but we have a completely different offer in the city centre.
“People who come shopping here do it for a more social experience. They visit a number of shops, they have a bite to eat or a drink, they go to the cinema or to the theatre. It’s a completely different thing to going to a supermarket.”
What it means for drivers
Car drivers will find it harder to get into Norwich once the changes are introduced, with one of the stated aims of the scheme to reduce city centre congestion.
The biggest and most obvious change for drivers is that they will no longer be able to head into St Stephens Street from the roundabout at the top of the road.
Surrey Street would also be off limits, leaving drivers with a rather roundabout route to get to the Castle Mall shopping centre car park entrance in Farmers Avenue.
Those drivers hey would have to head into All Saints Green and down Westlegate, turning right into Red Lion Street and looping around to the Castle Mall entrance.
Indeed, traffic heading down Westlegate would have no choice but to turn right. Traffic would no longer be able to continue across into Rampant Horse Street, up Theatre Street and onto Chapel Field North.
Drivers would be able to head into the city from Chapel Field North once it is made two way, but, other than to get to the car park near the Assembly House there would be little point in them doing so.
That is because general traffic would not be allowed to go any further than that car park, with a new restriction preventing vehicles other than buses, cycles and taxis from continuing down Rampant Horse Street.
Little Bethel Street will also be closed to traffic, except for cycles and emergency vehicles.
What it means for bus users
Bus operators say the changes will mean their services become more reliable and more punctual, which will encourage people to leave their cars at home and switch to public transport.
Council bosses say the changes will shave two minutes off each journey time, as well as improving the reliability of the services.
Buses will share St Stephens Street with taxis and cycles but, without cars congesting that street, bosses say it will improve journeys.
Making Chapel Field North two-way, will improve bus reliability for services from the west of the city, transport bosses insist.
Campaigners against the changes to Chapel Field North have disputed the figures which have been used to justify the changes and called for more accurate figures.
What it means for businesses
The changes will make the city a more attractive place and encourage more people to head into Norwich, according to business leaders.
Stefan Gurney, director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, said speedier buses would draw more people into the city centre, while reducing other traffic would make a street such as St Stephens Street much more pleasant and safe for pedestrians.
He said: “The view from businesses is that they support economic growth in the city and the transport links need to make the city as attractive as possible.
“The proposals will make a real impact on the visitor numbers who will come into the city. St Stephens Street and Surrey Street changes will make that area a much nicer environment for city centre users, while also reducing carbon emissions.”
What it means for tourism
Toursim bosses also welcomed the scheme, saying it would help attract more visitors to a city which, up to now, has not always been the most welcoming for visitors arriving by coach.
David McMaster, from Visit Norwich, presented a petition, signed by 17 businesses keen to see changes made to make it easier for coaches to get into the city centre.
The petition said making Chapel Field North open to traffic from Grapes Hill roundabout would have immense benefit to coaches carrying tourists who want to get to the city centre.
It stated: “We believe this development will have a considerable benefit to our businesses and generally to the Norwich economy.”
Disappointment for campaigners
Praised by councillors for their eloquence, attention to detail and contribution to the debate, the Chapel Field Action Group were, ultimately, not successful in convincing the committee to think again.
Formed in the weeks after what they described as a “woefully short consultation period”, the group consists, in their own words of “a concerned group of people living in the Chapelfield area, who are anxious to prevent the degrading of an historic heritage site in the city centre”.
They put forward alternative solutions to the proposals the council had come up with and questioned the traffic flow data and bus passenger figures the council officers were using to justify the scheme.
Their concerns included that a touted drop in car numbers would be offset by increased lorry and bus numbers in a narrow street, subsequently increasing pollution.
Richard Wilson, one of the group members, asked: “Do the committee really wish to preside over and sit comfortably with a ruinious planning decision which will see a street with listed buildings become a crawler lane for buses and HGVs with a reduction of two minutes in journey times?”
Peter Jackson, a member of the group, had told the committee the group was supportive of the plans for St Stephens, but had tried to come up with solutions for the Chapel Field North section of the scheme.
He told the committee: “It may appear to the committee that the group is opposed to change. The opposite is true. We, as residents of the area are very much in favour of the overall Norwich Area Transport Strategy.
“Where we have differences is the means of achieving those aims. As ratepayers, either directly or indirectly for this scheme, it is very much in our interests to find solutions which meet our needs, those of the council and committee and the population at large.”
But he said the traffic data being used was at least a year out of date and urged the committee to put the decision on hold until technology such as automatic number plate recognition could be used to provide indisputable data on traffic movements, which could then be used to find a solution.
Nearly 3,000 people have supported a Facebook campaign demanding safety improvements on the A47 near Dereham set up after the latest fatal crash.
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