How Norwich could thrive without the flyover
The Norwich Society's recent report on access to the city centre: Getting Around in Norwich has caused quite a stir. Not surprisingly with all the road works that are going on in Norwich, people are wary of anything that might cause more disturbances. At the minute you have to try to recall not where the roads are closed but where they are open!
What has emerged is that traffic and transport issues need far more discussion – and open discussion – not just the 'experts'. The recent Pedalways scheme has certainly made people aware that professional strategies can miss by both and inch and a mile. Taking due time over consultations and paying attention to what people say is essential. And that is really what our discussion paper was about – making suggestions now and getting ideas out there while there is still time to debate it.
Not surprisingly the proposal to get rid of the Magdalen Street flyover has brought in the most comment. It's no secret that the Norwich Society fought vehemently against it and would welcome a chance to reverse it. The north of the city has been isolated geographically and suffered economically. Yet resistance to removing the flyover is particularly vocal from the Magdalen Street Traders' Association, which fears that the removal process itself will be the occasion for a lengthy disruption of the hard-pressed shopkeepers in the area.
Our report cited the removal of the Belgrave flyover in Leicester as an equivalent situation. It was removed as part of a redevelopment of a shopping centre in 2015.
A few days ago Radio Norfolk carried a long interview with the chairman of the relevant Leicester traders' association about the demolition. He said that when the proposal was first made people were split down the middle, with many traders believing that it would damage trade and motorists forecasting a huge increase in jams.
He said that none of the forecasts of doom actually happened and that he doesn't know anyone who now believes that the demolition was not a good idea.
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The authors of our report have realised that it did not properly explain that, under our 'ideal scenario', there would be virtually no additional obstruction to traffic on the inner ring road. Magdalen Street would be closed to vehicular traffic except buses and necessary car and delivery access. There would be no new junction at Magdalen Street and the ring road traffic would just flow straight across. An additional pedestrian/cycling crossing could be synchronised with the St Augustine's roundabout lights. Buses would be routed via Duke Street and St Andrews Street.
We think that the opposition from the traders comes from the perception that the Anglia Square bus stops would be removed entirely – which would indeed be disastrous. In the 'worst scenario' from their point of view, there is certainly a problem with the outgoing bus stop being further away from the centre.
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What we would urge is that in redeveloping Anglia Square it ought to be possible to accommodate better bus access. Co-operation between the developers, the bus companies and the county and city authorities could produce a constructive outcome. But we need to start talking now. Whatever the eventual outcome for Magdalen Street, co-operation is very much the way forward. We are starting the process with this report and following it with a meeting with the lead county council transport planner.
When I was appointed administrator of the Norwich Society 12 years ago, I went to see the late John Ogden whose wife Jean was the first administrator back in the 1960s.
I asked him how I should approach the job and he said to me quite simply that I should try to support what was 'best for the people of Norwich'. That, of course, is not always an easy thing to discern. There are many interests and both majority and minority viewpoints are part of the whole.
With its core commitment to the conservation of historic buildings, the Norwich Society necessarily takes a long view which can be at odds with immediate financial pressures. This is an area where we are often at loggerheads with the city council – a situation which is at last being tempered by the renewed work of the Norwich Preservation Trust.
I would add, however, that the very process of participating in public life, of discussing disparate attitudes, is in itself important to the civic ethos.
This is my last column under the banner of the Norwich Society – I will be leaving in July and you will next be hearing from my successor, John Litster.
• Vicky Manthorpe is administrator for the Norwich Society and the author of Lilias Rider Haggard: Countrywoman, published by Poppyland Publishing