Special investigation: Average speed on Norwich Northern Distributor Road will be 57mph
Almost £14m has been spent on the Norwich Northern Distributor Road, before the hugely controversial route has secured planning permission.
And the estimated average speed on the 19.5km road, which will stretch from the A47 at Postwick to the A1067 Fakenham Road if it does get built, will be 57mph.
That is 11mph lower than the average speed on the UK’s dual carriageways, which is 68mph.
If people think the incinerator project has dragged on for a while, that’s nothing compared to the tortuous route which the northern distributor road has taken so far.
On and off the drawing board for decades, the £148.5m road scheme has long gestated.
But, Norfolk County Council finally appears to be on the brink of getting a road which it says is “essential” for the economic development of the county.
The road has been designated by the government as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, which will speed up its process through the planning system.
It has £86.5m of money promised by the government and a commitment by the county council to find the rest of the funding. However, for some, this project remains only half the scheme it should be. The road, as originally envisaged, connected to the A47 to the west of the city. The current plan only goes as far as the A1067.
And that, according to some of its critics, makes it a road to nowhere, which will cause more traffic problems than it solves. Tim East, (pictured below), Liberal Democrat county councillor for Costessey and his party’s spokesman for planning, transportation and environment, said: “I’m not surprised by the average estimated speed of 57mph, because there are so many roads coming off it and so many roundabouts. It is going to exacerbate existing traffic issues.”
While the county council says traffic modelling shows the three key routes between Taverham and Costessey (Costessey Lane, Taverham Road and Ringland Road) will not be “adversely affected”, Mr East disagrees.
He said: “That’s nonsense. They said of the southern bypass that it would reduce traffic coming through Costessey, but our traffic surveys showed it went up 300pc.”
The council says that, while not part of the NDR application, the council’s cabinet had approved some traffic calming in West End, Costessey and improvements to better enforce weight restrictions on existing river bridges between Costessey/Ringland and Taverham/Drayton.
Mr East has been pushing for a feasibility study to look again at connecting the road to the A47 to the west of Norwich. In November, the council’s cabinet agreed to do so “as soon as resources allow”, but with the “key resources” focused on getting the rest of the road built first.
The council said: “At this time, the position has not changed and the resource currently remains focused on delivering the development consent order application from the NDR project from Postwick to the A1067. No work has therefore been possible so far on the feasibility study.”
Mr East said: “I would hope that within the next six months a study has been initiated.
“I know they have got £2.5m in reserve for the road, so surely some of that could be used for the feasibility study?”
However, the county council, where officers visibly shudder if you describe the road as a bypass, insist the road, even in its shortened form, makes sense.
The council says: “The NDR will greatly improve access to Norwich International Airport and provide much needed transport infrastructure to allow planned and proposed growth to be progressed in a sustainable way.
“Access to North Norfolk from Norwich, and vice versa, the A47 and the the A11, will significantly improve as a result of the implementation of the NDR.
“The NDR will reduce traffic flows on the northern radial routes and the northern section of the outer ring road and reduce city centre through traffic.
“The NDR will also significantly reduce the rat-running currently experienced on unsuitable residential suburban roads and nearby country lanes.
“This will also bring opportunities for improving the provision for public transport and cyclists as part of the implementation of the Norwich Area Transport Strategy, making these trips safer for vulnerable road users.”
The council, in 2005, said it was committed to pursue a “separate scheme” to address “existing local problems” between Hockering and Lenwade and the final stage of that is expected to be completed by April next year.
Over the past decade, the council revealed, £13.77m has been spent on the NDR, even though it has yet to obtain planning permission.
But council leader George Nobbs defended that spending. He said: “Whatever we have spent, I believe that it will prove very good value for money for the Norfolk economy.
“I believe, as do the three mainstream parties in Norfolk, that the NDR is essential to the future of Norfolk’s economy and that is one of our top priorities.”
The Green Party, however, are long-standing opponents of the NDR and have criticised the process which has been followed so far.
Denise Carlo, (pictured), a Green Norwich city councillor and spokesman for the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action group, said: “The county council has ridden roughshod over the public and, at times, there has been abuse of process.”
One example of that, she said, was the county council’s involvement with Ifield estates on the Broadland Gate development, which forms a key part of the Postwick Hub scheme.
That scheme, which has been going through its own legal process, is, effectively, the point at which the NDR meets the A47 to the east of Norwich.
And she also pointed to how the Department for Transport had blocked the council’s attempt to award the contract to build the road to its strategic partner May Gurney – which forced the council to go out for tender.
She said: “If built, the NDR will lead to a third ring of development around Norwich on a scale never seen before.
“Already 10,000 dwellings and three new business/industrial parks are planned for north east Norwich and that is just the start.
“If the NDR is built, the entire swathe of countryside between Norwich and the NDR would be developed and villages beyond the NDR would expand.
“The NDR would create the Norwich version of the M25 – the N25, especially if Norfolk County Council succeeds in taking the NDR across the Wensum Valley.”
She added that she believed the average speed would be lower than 57mph, given the large number of roundabouts on the route.
However, the road, which the county council says could lead to £1.3bn of economic benefits for Norfolk, has been supported by the business community.
Aviva said the road would be particularly beneficial to the 2,000 staff who work at Broadland Business Park, while Norwich International Airport says it can help attract world class businesses to the area.
ON THE RADAR
Taxpayers will have to pay £1.3m in compensation to Norwich International Airport (NIA) if the Northern Distributor Road is built – because the airport’s current radar system would get confused by the cars on the road.
A problem is that the traffic on the £148.5m road would show up on the airport’s radar system, interfering with the safe arrival and departure of planes from it.
Norfolk County Council’s controlling Labour/Liberal Democrat cabinet agreed earlier this year to agree a solution – which would see the council contribute £1.3m over eight years towards a replacement system.
The council would provide the financing for the total cost of the radar replacement, with the airport paying back 12/20 of the total £3m cost to the council. And it is not just the airport which will be affected by the road, with 355 hectares of land identified as needed to build it. The council expects it will have to spend £15m to buy up that land, which is included in the overall cost of the road.
The authority says land will have to be taken from nine homes, but say only an already derelict property and a building with planning consent for conversion to a residential dwelling will have to be demolished.
Discussions with affected landowners have been ongoing for many years and some affected land and buildings have already been acquired.
The council has also had one Blight Notice (where the value of the property was likely to be reduced by the road) connected to the scheme. The council accepted and bought the property. Another is likely to be served.
The council has also received one discretionary purchase request, which it is currently considering.
Some other properties affected by the scheme have been acquired in agreement with the landowners.
A LONG-RUNNING SAGA
It was back in 2003 that the idea for what was described as a ‘relief road’ was officially dusted down and put back on the table, about a decade after it was originally mooted.
At that point a number of routes were being considered, including joining up with the A47 at the west of the city, with a prediction that work could start in 2006.
But the hopes of a complete link were dashed, due to the River Wensum being a Special Area of Conservation. It was concluded that there was no practical way to cross the Wensum Valley without having an effect on that area.
So the planned route which was settled on by the council was from the A47 in the east to the A140 at Norwich International Airport.
The government has allocated £86.5m for that stretch of the road, but the county council is committed to also building the section of the road which will go from the A140 to the A1067 Fakenham Road, even if that means underwriting the costs. The council will also look to contributions from developers of housing to pay for the road, in the form of the new community infrastructure levy.