Will the pandemic change Norfolk - or will we all just carry on as we were?

The Western Link protest at the Norfolk Showground on the day a decision will be made. Picture: Neil

The Western Link remains one of the most controversial of all the schemes planned for Norfolk - Credit: Neil Didsbury

"Do you think things will change when the pandemic stops having such an impact on our lives - or will everything just go back to how it was?"

That was the question I opened with in this very column way back in March. It's as relevant now as it was then.

At the time I wrote about how lots of us will have spent the previous 12 months, many of them in lockdown, assessing our lives and trying to work out how we wished things to differ 'on the other side'.

But how much of those intended changes will last, I wondered. Would we all come out of the pandemic with a raft of new good intentions, but eventually just slip back into the same old habits and ways? I suspect that, for many, some changes have remained, but many have already fallen by the wayside.

I posed the same question the those in power and of influence in Norfolk. 

At the time, the future of the Holt Hall education centre was up for debate and I feared the decision was being made on evidence from a pre-pandemic world, rather than a post one. 

Holt Hall, 1995. Picture: Archant Library

Holt Hall in north Norfolk - Credit: Archant Library

I felt there was no need to rush and the consultation should have been paused for a later date. Sadly that's not how it panned out and we now await to find out what the future holds for the hall.

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But this wasn't the only proposal that needed, and still needs, a fresh look. The controversial Western Link, the future make-up of local government, how to meet ever-growing housing demands and what is best for Norfolk's overall economic recovery, are just four of the big issues that should be reassessed in a post-pandemic world.

Where relevant, are the projects still needed? Are there new, potentially better and previously unconsidered alternatives? Are they still cost-effective? Are they what's best for this county and country? Do they damage the planet? These are just some of the questions that should be asked of every major scheme which was put on the agenda prior to 2020 and remains on the agenda as we leave 2021.

It was disappointing therefore to have to report on the newly published Norfolk Local Transport Plan, which was put on hold earlier this year with a view to being changed according to the government's instructions over environmental protection.

The plan outlines transport schemes to improve highways, encourage walking, cycling, bus and rail use and deliver major projects like the Norwich Western LinkLong Stratton bypass and Great Yarmouth's third river crossing. Pretty important stuff.

Illustrative design to show one of the opening mechanisms being considered for the third river cross

Yarmouth third river crossing - Credit: Norfolk County Council

And since it was put on hold we've seen all sorts of emphasis, led by the government through COP 26, put on the environment and how we must all play a part in protecting it more effectively.

Yet despite this, the newly published local transport plan is exactly the same as the one previously put on hold several months ago, leading to criticism from rival groups that it doesn't go far enough to outline what part Norfolk will play in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly future.

I've had a read of the plan. As you can imagine, on the face of it, it's pretty dry and pretty vague. Of course it ticks the boxes. It mentions phrases like 'a sustainable Norfolk', touches on electric cars and talks about the need to improve the air quality and encourage clean growth. But is it innovative enough? Does it dare to do different?

I'm no expert, but would challenge those who are to ensure that everything possible is being done to come up with a vision for Norfolk that is right for the changed world we now find ourselves in.

Perhaps, as far as transport is concerned, this plan is the best we can do. For the sakes of all of our futures let's hope so.

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