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First tour of the length of Norwich's Northern Distributor Road

Tour of the NDR.
Picture: Nigel Pickover

Tour of the NDR. Picture: Nigel Pickover

Archant Norfolk 2016

Love the idea of the Northern Distributor Road around Norwich? Or question the huge cost? Whatever your view, the £180m project is well under way as summer turns to autumn.

Eastern Daily Press editor Nigel Pickover took to a chunky 4x4 vehicle and, via sandy trackways, became one of the first to traverse the entire route. Dan Grimmer asked what he thought.

Q. So what struck you most on the tour?

1) how well-advanced the project is.

2) how construction firm Balfour Beatty is putting all the hundreds of thousands of excavated tonnes to use on the site itself. Nothing is carried away.

3) the vast width of the carriageways which look more like airport runways.

4) the efforts being made to protect nature.


Q. So, when will it open and how are they using those hundreds of thousands of tonnes of excavated material?

Most of the work should be completed by the end of 2017 – with an opening as soon as late 2017. Digger drivers using satellite technology are moving the earth into exactly the right position. Embankments, as an example, will be made from excavated soil and sand taken from the sites of bridges and flyovers.

Q. What’s been the effect on wildlife?

Hundreds of great crested newts have been moved, bat colonies relocated, bat boxes put up and bat fences erected to guide the nocturnal fliers along their foraging routes. While I was there a red kite and a buzzard drifted overhead, oblivious to 200 men and women and noisy trucks working below.

Everyone is taking a great deal of care with nature – many conservationists will argue with good reason that the concrete structures, road surfacing, bridges, noise and pollution will drive animals away but that will only be shown by the test of time.

Q. So what else did you spot? 
I was impressed by the way the roads are being underpinned by a base of ‘rough concrete’ made from existing sand or sand and stone and cement. 
Experts tell the engineers what mix to make and the bases are prepared accordingly. Roads these days are designed in laboratories!
I was fascinated by the piling machines next to the rail line between Norwich, North Walsham and Cromer/Sheringham. The piling work has to take place at night when rail services cease. The holes are 100 feet deep.

Q. What did you feel about the quality of the project and scale of it?

It is vast – and very complicated with the number of bridges, underpasses and flyovers.

The work is progressing well and Balfour Beatty, principal contractors, seem to be a) ahead of their schedule, and b) doing well.

Q. What have the construction team done about dust and traffic disruption?

Dust is controlled by a fleet of bowsers... but there’ll always be some inconvenience.

Ditto on traffic disruption but there seemed to be a smooth flow of traffic when I crossed from the Taverham end to Postwick.

Q. What is the major ongoing issue?

Some people have labelled the NDR the ‘road to nowhere’. At the Fakenham Road end the traffic will spill on to the A1067 – and many fear ‘rat runs’ through nearby villages as people try to cut through to the A47 west. This will be an ongoing serious issue for Norfolk County Council – there is a clear need for an innovative final link of the road to be thought through, designed and ultimately paid for. There will, of course, be local hostilities at every turn.

The second issue is spiralling cost – officers have warned an extra £6.8m could have to be added to the £180m budgeted at the time construction began.

NDR factfile

The road is a 12.5-mile dual carriageway being constructed from Postwick, where it connects to the A47 at the eastern end of Norwich southern bypass, to the A1067 Fakenham Road.

The Postwick A47 junction was constructed as the stand-alone Postwick Hub scheme to overcome serious capacity problems. This was complete in late 2015.

The cost is being paid for by the Department for Transport, the Community Infrastructure Levy (with the agreement of Norwich City, Broadland and South Norfolk councils), Norfolk County Council, New Anglia LEP, and Growth Point funds.

Construction started on January 4 this year. The main contractor is Balfour Beatty. There are:

Nine roundabouts along the route

One junction where the A140 Cromer Road will go over the NDR, connecting to the dual carriageway via slip roads to two roundabouts

Six bridges over the NDR (Marriotts Way, Bell Farm, A140, Buxton Road, Newman Road, Middle Road)

Two bridges carrying the NDR (Rackheath Rail bridge, Plumstead Road)

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