Breakthrough hopes over bottleneck bridge which slows trains and holds up homes
- Credit: Mike Page
Crucial studies are under way which could finally see the replacement of a bottleneck rail bridge, which slows down trains and hampers plans for thousands of homes on the edge of Norwich.
The Trowse swing bridge is seen as key to ambitious plans to regenerate areas to the east of Norwich - and work is under way to build up the case to attract funding for its replacement.
The railway line over the bridge, which opens to allow access to the historic port of Norwich - established by an Act of Parliament - is single track, but studies are exploring whether that could be made double track, with Trowse junction remodelled.
That would improve capacity - and speed - of trains to Norwich, but also enable easier access to development areas, such as the Deal Ground and Utilities site.
Those areas, along with the former Colman's site at Carrow Works and the former May Gurney site are part of what is known as the East Norwich Vision.
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A public/private partnership called the East Norwich Partnership, has been created to help get those sites developed with 4,000 homes and 6,000 jobs.
Developers Fuel Properties recently announced they have bought the former Colman's site and are ready to invest £40m, while businessman Andre Serruys is keen to get his development of homes and a marina built at the Deal Ground.
The mooted inclusion of a marina as part of that development is significant, as that means the Act of Parliament can still be satisfied, while justifying making the Trowse bridge fixed and enabling it to be double tracked.
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The East Norwich Partnership has been meeting privately to discuss the issues. Members include Norwich City Council, Homes England, New Anglia LEP, Norfolk County Council, Network Rail, South Norfolk Council and the Broads Authority and the landowners of the Deal Ground /May Gurney, Utilities sites, Carrow Works and Carrow House.
Some of the £25m awarded to the council from the government's Towns Fund scheme will help get schemes off the ground.
And progress is being made on the key issue of the bridge - although millions of pounds would be needed to replace it.
Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Improvements to the Trowse Swing Bridge have been identified as key to unlocking the potential of this development, which promises to deliver up to 4,000 new homes and 6,000 new jobs across the three sites.
“Along with our partners, we have been working with Network Rail to progress the case for additional capacity at Trowse.
"We recently secured £50,000 from the Norfolk Strategic Fund to produce additional modelling work to strengthen the case for this, and are exploring opportunities to bring forward the timeline for bridge improvements to align with the East Norwich development, maximising the benefits it will bring to the area.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: "I recognise that the LEP, county council, city council and Broads Authority have ambitious plans to redevelop this area.
"We want to support sustainable development across our network where we can and we are working closely with the Trowse area development stakeholders.
"We are currently undertaking a preliminary rail service capacity study on Trowse Bridge which shall inform the stakeholder group, and also form the basis for a further regional strategic study informing rail network development options for funders."
Council officers point to a regeneration scheme in York, where Homes England and Network Rail are partners, which has been awarded £77m by the government to support development of homes.
Mike Stonard, Norwich city councillor and chairman of the East Norwich Partnership said: "We are really serious about this. This is the biggest brownfield site outside London. It is hugely exciting."
A masterplan is due to be drawn up for the whole area.
Trowse Parish Council is keeping watch, but, with the schemes at an early stage, has yet to make its views public.
However, there is concern within the village about how the proposed Deal Ground development will be accessed - and a belief that a bridge will be needed so traffic does not all go in and out via the May Gurney site.
There are fears the mistake made at the Queen's Hills development, where the estate still has just one road leading in and out, could be repeated.