Let’s make Norwich a greener, happier, healthier place by 2020

Smog near Postwick. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Smog near Postwick. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

What is it about Norwich that so many people love?

Huw Sayer, director of Business Writers Ltd. Photo: Lorrie Tallis

Huw Sayer, director of Business Writers Ltd. Photo: Lorrie Tallis - Credit: Archant

Of course, there's the architecture, the history and the excellent range of independent shops. But the one thing that really stands out for me and many visitors is the sheer walk-ability of the place.

Everywhere within the old city walls, particularly south and west of the Wensum, is within 30 minutes walk. Strolling from Chapelfield Gardens to the Cathedral Close is a pleasure – with the award-winning market along your way. It is also easily doable for anyone of average fitness.

Yet Norwich faces a number of challenges. One is the damaging levels of air pollution, particularly from diesel vehicles. This is a serious threat to human health, particularly that of young children.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recently reported that more children suffer from respiratory conditions in the UK than any other country in Europe. Other studies have found that air pollution is detrimental to mental health and educational attainment.

If only for the sake of our children, we must reduce the level of traffic in urban areas. But there are other benefits to cutting the number of cars, as cities such as Amsterdam, Oslo, Bogotá in Colombia and Pontevedra in Spain have discovered.

These cities have all introduced pedestrian friendly policies over the last 50 years – with resounding success. Bogotá closes 76 miles of city streets to traffic every Sunday. A quarter of the city's 6.5m population turns out each week to cycle, run, walk or just enjoy the spectacle and time with friends.

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Cut cars – plant trees.

Downtown Oslo has closed 700 on-street parking spaces in the last year and replaced them with trees, micro-parks, benches and new cycle lanes. It has seen a 10pc increase in pedestrians as a result. The pedestrian-only areas are now among the most popular parts of the city.

Norwich – like all retail centres – faces a real threat from online shopping and out of town stores. People choose these alternatives because they are convenient. Yet the city, according to latest figures from the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), is bucking the national trend by increasing footfall in the city centre.

How is it doing this? One obvious way is simply by providing people with a more pleasant shopping experience. That's not just in the range of shops and cafés but also in the pedestrian friendly streets in The Lanes, around the market, and now Westlegate.

People want a reason to get out and socialise – and exercise – in safety. Studies by the UN and other leading research organisations have found that urban green spaces encourage active and healthy lifestyles.

They improve mental health, prevent heart and lung diseases, and nurture thriving communities. Trees act as natural air filters, cool streets in summer and reduce noise pollution.

Let's make our city a greener, healthier, happier place. Let's start by removing all on-street parking in the centre, widening our pavements, and providing more green spaces for people to relax and chat.

Let's make Norwich an even better place to live, work and play.

As the Mayor of Pontevedra says, 'owning a car doesn't give you the right to occupy the public space'.

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