25 years on: The day a town's traffic nightmare came to an end

Vehicles drive on the Wymondham bypass for the very first time as it opens in 1996.

Vehicles drive on the Wymondham bypass for the very first time as it opens. Dated: March 22, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

25 years ago, the new £16.5 million A11 Wymondham bypass opened, ending years of congestion through the town - a notorious bottleneck and accident blackspot.

On March 22, 1996, the 5.4 mile stretch of dual carriageway opened after three years of work - running from the Norwich side of Wymondham to the A11 at Besthorpe

An empty, quiet scene on Wymondham bypass a week before it opened in 1996. 

An empty, quiet scene on Wymondham bypass a week before it opened. Dated: March 15, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

A map showing the proposed Wymondham bypass route published in the EDP on February 12, 1994

A map showing the proposed Wymondham bypass route published in the EDP on February 12, 1994. Search the EDP archives with Local Recall at localrecall.co.uk. - Credit: Archant Library

Roads minister John Watts cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony with former transport secretary and south Norfolk MP John MacGregor.

Cutting the ribbon at the Wymondham bypass opening ceremony in 1996

Roads minister John Watts (left) cutting the ribbon at the Wymondham bypass opening ceremony with former transport secretary and south Norfolk MP John MacGregor (right). Dated: March 22, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

Pupils from the Ashleigh first school at Wymondham cheer the opening of the new bypass in 1996

Pupils from the Ashleigh first school at Wymondham cheer the opening of the new bypass. Dated: March 22, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

Traffic experts predicted the route could reduce the accident rate along the stretch by 60 per cent and cut the traffic rate on the existing A11 in Wymondham by 80 per cent.

An anticipated 16,000 vehicles would drive along the new bypass each day, skirting Wymondham and what had been the only set of traffic lights on the A11 at the time. 

Traffic lights on the A11 in Wymondham after the new bypass opened in 1996.

Much quieter scenes at the traffic lights on the A11 in Wymondham after the new bypass opened, a stark contrast to the usual congestion. Dated: March 22, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

But environmentalists denounced the bypass claiming it would destroy Norfolk's rural charm and increase pollution. There were also concerns about how the construction and new road would disturb a colony of rare great crested newts. 

For instance, in February 1994 five members of a group calling themselves the Lizard Tribe occupied diggers for six hours in an attempt to disrupt hedgerow clearance near Spooner Row.

A protestor climbs a tree near the route of the new Wymondham bypass in 1996

A protestor climbs a tree to display a sign reading 'Beat the bulldozers save the lizard' near the route of the new Wymondham bypass. Dated: 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

Environmentalists protesting the Wymondham bypass from the EDP archives in 1994

Environmentalists protesting the Wymondham bypass from the EDP archives in 1994. Search 150 years of EDP newspapers from your computers and voice activated devices by subscribing to Local Recall - localrecall.co.uk. - Credit: Archant Library


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The bypass project included £150,000 spent on 150,000 shrubs and 40,000 trees to line the route. Another £150,000 created a new habitat for the colony of great crested newts in the area with a series of ponds and a special fence to prevent them from getting onto the road. 

Many locals welcomed the bypass and the positive impacts it would have on their lives. 

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Samantha and Wayne Rice lived on London Road. They looked forward to getting a good night's sleep and tending their front garden without inhaling fumes.

Mrs Rice said: "You can't have your windows open because of all the dust and pollution, and it can take up to 25 minutes to get out of the drive in the car."

Vic and Rita Hawes also lived in the area. Mr Hawes described: "When lorries go past you can feel the house shake. And it is frightening walking into town because they mount the pavements, so you really have to watch out for the kiddies.

"It is going to be heaven when the bypass opens," he said a week before the official ribbon-cutting session.

Part of the new embankment along the Wymondham bypass in 1996

Part of the new embankment along the Wymondham bypass. Dated: April 26, 1996. - Credit: Archant Library

For more old photos and articles about Norfolk history and heritage, subscribe to our new fortnightly Through the Decades email newsletter. Sign up by clicking here

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