A great chance to put region on the road to prosperity

The soon to open dual carriageway on the A11 at Elveden, Norfolk. Photo : Steve Adams

The soon to open dual carriageway on the A11 at Elveden, Norfolk. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

Tomorrow sees the dawn of a new era for East Anglia, with the opening of the newly dualled A11. Here SIMON ALTHAM, one of our leading tourism figures, explains what it means for the region.

On a grey and cold winter's day, in what we in the tourism business would normally consider a very quiet period, something monumental is about to happen for our industry and the economic development of the county as a whole.

That momentous moment might be something as simple as the dualling of a road (the A11 in fact), but the significance of the event cannot be underestimated.

It would be easy to dismiss my words as hyperbole, and I can understand why some might, but I strongly believe that the first time Norfolk will be linked to London by a continuous dual carriageway is the biggest news for the local tourism industry in the past 50 years.

However, the A11 is only the start of the process, as the government recently announced the biggest upgrade to roads in a generation and we've done well to secure another £300m of funding for the A47.

Why is this such good news I hear you cry? It's only a road, and one that will simply bring more traffic to Norfolk's highways and byways. Well, as I outlined in my piece in the EDP earlier this year, UK consumers can choose to holiday anywhere they want in the world.

But they are time poor. Like all of us, people want to get to their destinations as quickly as possible.

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The dualling of the A11 means that the majority of Londoners can reach Norfolk in less than two hours – the holy grail of domestic tourism travelling time. This opens up the county to more visitors than ever before. When they think about heading to Stansted for their holiday next year, and paying for the privilege of queuing for two hours to get on a plane, in that time they could be walking along some of the best beaches in the world, watching the sun go down over The Broads, or exploring the Norwich Lanes in our genuinely Fine City.

So how do we capitalise on this opportunity? Firstly, we've all got to tell more people that the county will be more accessible than ever before. Thanks to the great work of Norfolk Tourism and the support of the County Council, there's a budget to raise awareness of this next year. But it shouldn't stop here – every tourism business has a part to play in helping to get the good word out. Secondly, we must continue to innovate and develop our offering so we don't give consumers a reason to look overseas.

This year we've seen the greatest level of investment in The Broads in a decade, and it's no coincidence that this has driven an increase in visitor numbers. We also need help from outside the industry. Politicians need to continue to support development within the county – from the Northern Distributor Road to improvements on the rail network.

The A11 gives everyone, public and private sector alike, a shot in the arm. Let's make the most of this opportunity and fight for the very best for Norfolk.

Simon Altham is managing director of Hoseasons

Don't miss our special A11 supplement, in tomorrow's paper