‘A ghost town’ - five years on from major Norwich road shake-up, what has changed?

PUBLISHED: 06:30 05 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:45 05 March 2019

Cars on St Stephens Street before the ban was brought in. Photo: Simon Finlay

Cars on St Stephens Street before the ban was brought in. Photo: Simon Finlay

Archant Norfolk

Five years ago, in 2014, cars were banned from St Stephens Street. Lauren Cope reports on the impact since.

Cars on St Stephens Street before the road was changed. Photo: Simon FinlayCars on St Stephens Street before the road was changed. Photo: Simon Finlay

In the past, St Stephens Street was a busy entrance to the city centre.

A report from 2012 showed that nearly 5,000 vehicles used it every day - buses making up 1,500 of those - with the majority heading towards Castle Mall, Tombland or the train station.

But the changes in 2014, which also covered Rampant Horse Street, meant only cyclists, buses and taxis had access as part of an ongoing overhaul to city centre traffic.

Today, it is a shopping thoroughfare, lined by largely national brands.

Andrew Smith, who has worked at independent menswear store Jonathan Trumbull for 30 years, said the wider focus on making the city more pedestrian and cycle-friendly had knocked business.

“It’s not necessarily St Stephens on its own,” he said, “but changes with all the roads really put people off coming back. That’s the feedback we’ve had from customers, when we see them. Sometimes it feels like a ghost town here.”

Lyn McAlister, who has owned nearby café 7 Surrey Street for almost nine years, said the area had altered significantly, but with changes to both the way we shop and tenants on the street, said it was hard to pin down why.

She said: “At one point our customers were mainly office workers, but people’s working habits have changed considerably and now I would say it is slightly older people coming in.”

The Evening News when the decision was confirmed.The Evening News when the decision was confirmed.

Bus operators say the change made the area safer and quicker to navigate, but pushed traffic out onto the wider network.

And pollution remains a problem - a 2018 report listed St Stephens as one of the worst areas in the city for levels of nitrogen oxide (NO2), and above World Health Organisation targets.

But John Fisher, Norfolk County Council’s chairman of the Norwich Highways Agency Committee, said the change had been a “success story”.

He said in the first two years, First had seen an increase of more than 350,000 passenger journeys in Norwich, while the number of vehicles in Rampant Horse Street every 12 hours had fallen from 4,000 to 1,000 since the change.

Citing the pedestrianised area between St Stephens and All Saints Green, the final phase of the project which was completed in 2017, he said it had increased footfall and passing trade, with all units along Westlgate now in use.

“This is great news for Norwich and reflected in the latest footfall statistics so we will continue to build on these positive outcomes through our future work to the transport network,” he said.

Speed off-sets delays elsewhere

Bus operators said the changes had sped up services through the city centre, off-setting delays elsewhere around the network.

Jeremy Cooper, managing director of Konectbus, said the car-free zone was “enormously beneficial”.

“It’s great that we have a congestion-free terminal point for city routes which secures the reliable journey times that offer increased passenger numbers, particularly as congestion has got worse on other parts of the network,” he said.

“St Stephens has fantastic levels of footfall and shows what a great system bus routes are for getting lots of people into a city centre location.”

Chris Speed, operations director at First Eastern Counties, said the changes had been a “massive advantage” to buses, with the time it took buses to travel from Castle Meadow up to St Stephens cut from eight minutes to two.

He said it had given the timetable the flexibility to adjust for other hold-ups.

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