Why we should all welcome the marvel of Norwich’s NDR

Aerial view of the NDR Northern Distributor Road. Sept 2017. Picture: Mike Page

Aerial view of the NDR Northern Distributor Road. Sept 2017. Picture: Mike Page - Credit: Mike Page

Opinion: Norwich's new NDR is a marvel of construction that Nick Conrad can't wait to use.

Why is it every time I cross the new Northern Distributor Road I get a pang of bubbling excitement? Never before in my life has a stretch of tarmac caused such inner delight. I confess I'm greatly looking forward to sailing around the city without the hassle of navigating our urban centre.

However, it's the building of the NDR that fascinates me.

One friend still talks of the great excitement when the Norwich southern bypass opened. He claims that on the opening day he, and friends, drove the entire length three times. For those who simply can't wait, this weekend you can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse. From 10am until 4pm on Sunday, the dual carriageway between the A1067 Fakenham Road and New Drayton Lane will be open exclusively for cyclists, walkers and runners to explore the new three-mile stretch.

This is a sizeable project costing us more than £200 million. The speed at which the work has been undertaken has been impressive. Around the outer suburbs the new road links the existing arteries out into the wider county. On the various roads that cross the new NDR, you get a perspective of the size and progress of the development. This road has the potential to really change the city. The land around the new road offers several opportunities which, if taken, will increase the development of the local area. So… is this the blissful calm before the invited storm?

Under construction and devoid of traffic, its current serenity is at odds with the surge of vehicles that the road will soon accommodate. As it snakes through the beautiful countryside its current state of bareness seems like an odd vacuum. Woodland thickets either side, awoken from their rural tranquility, seem to bow with dreaded anticipation of the thundering roar or clattering engines and spinning wheels. Where only sweet birdsongs would once break the silence now a monotonous drone, a hideous humming, will drown out nature's call.

Yet still I can't help rejoicing.

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I feel guilt that the necessity of mankind always seems to outweigh the welfare of our natural world. However, these roads are the lifeblood of our economy. Just imagine Norwich without the southern bypass: Thorpe would be a massive car park, the riverside a nightmare and the Dereham road impassable. So the reprieve from the heavy traffic in parts of North Norwich can't come too soon. I console myself in the knowledge that the southern bypass isn't littered with endless housing estates and business parks, so one hopes the potential urban sprawl will be limited.

Though most, myself included, welcome the new road, I implore all of us to think carefully about moving to newer technology. Buying efficient cars, electric vehicles, a good old-fashioned bike or using public transport to replace the 'gas guzzlers' goes towards collectively appeasing Terra Mater. The road may in some people's view be a permanent 'scar' on the landscape, but what else could we do? With a 30% increase in vehicles forecast in the next ten years, we can't afford to stand still.

The Government recently announced a £1 billion pot aimed at reducing congestion. The long-term plan is to improve productivity across the country by upgrading 3,800 miles of A-roads. It also aims to improve connectivity, responding to local growth priorities, and unlocking new housing opportunities as well as economic potential.

The government would do well to invest in - and subsidise - green vehicle technology. It would go some way to appeasing the guilt, some of us feel, for carving up the countryside.