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Should Norwich become car free? Campaign launched by man living with lung condition

Guildhall Hill. Photo: Antony Kelly

Guildhall Hill. Photo: Antony Kelly

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009

A Norwich man living with a lung condition has launched a drive to see the streets of Norwich become car free.

Matt White, 36, set up the Car Free Norwich campaign in September in a bid to, one day, see the city centre become rid of cars.

But his initial goal is to see the city follow in the footsteps of others including Paris and London and host a car free day.

Mr White, of Silver Road, has lived with lung condition Bronchiectasis for the last decade.

“It was after a freak incident after I got back from a holiday to Berlin when I got influenza and double pneumonia,” he said. “They never really understood why, but I had a cardiac arrest and was lucky to survive it. It left me with a lot of damage to my lungs.”

He said he is at heightened risk of further damage due to pollution, and can really “feel the pollution” when it is bad - describing himself as a “canary in the mines”.

MORE: Norwich drivers could face £20 fine if they refuse to turn off idling engines

Mr White, an event coordinator, said he was hospitalised twice in October, both of which were after a spike in air pollution.

“I am hugely aware of the air quality in the city and I do carry a monitor with me,” he said. “It’s usually much higher than it should be, particularly outside schools, during rush hour.”

He said he believed Norwich had the potential to be the UK’s most cycle and walking-friendly city, and has been speaking to Norwich City Council about what can be done.

“The main thing would be regular car free days,” he said. “London had its first one, where 50 streets were closed, and World Car Free Day was held on September 22. It allowed people to envisage the city differently.”

MORE: Norwich has some of the worst air pollution levels in the country, report shows

He said he wouldn’t want to see buses banned, being a relatively sustainable mode of transport.

And, looking forward, he said he would like to see Guildhall Hill and Exchange Street pedestrianised, with the taxi rank moved to outside City Hall.

“There’s so much evidence that it is better for businesses,” he said, “and it would be really nice having seating areas outside some of them.”

Mr White hopes to set up a petition for a car free day, which would, ideally, be held next September, and said the campaign has so far been well-received.

Last month, the city council said it would have enforcement officers in the city asking drivers with idling engines to turn them off, or risk facing a £20 fine.

It is part of a package of measures to try and bring down Norwich’s air pollution levels, which, in some areas, are higher than World Health Organisation targets.

A spokesperson for Transport for Norwich said: “Improving air quality is an important part of our strategy for transport in Norwich. Changes to date have significantly reduced the amount of through traffic using the city centre and investment of Department for Transport funding in our cycle network has resulted in more people than ever choosing to travel by bike.

MORE: What can be done to clean up Norwich’s dirty air?

“The enforcement of engine switch-off for parked vehicles and our proposals for improving public transport as part of our bid to the Transforming Cities fund are also aimed at lowering emissions.

“Creating a lasting improvement in air quality will take continued citywide collaboration and a range of measures. Any steps we do take also need to balance the varied demands on our network so the city continues to grow and thrive.”

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