The issue King's Lynn must deal with
A wind of change is blowing in off the river, as an ancient port sets sail for the future.
King’s Lynn has its eyes on the most ambitious expansion the town has seen in almost half a century.
There are hopes a run-down part of its ancient waterfront, where the whaling fleet once bobbed on the tide, could provide a berth for more than 400 new homes, shops, bars and restaurants, along with new moorings for visiting vessels.
After agreeing the idea in principle, West Norfolk council is now trying to woo a developer to deliver what will be called Nelson’s Quay.
But development also brings its share of controversies to rock the boat - along with some difficult decisions.
Traffic and poor road connections came up continually in our survey, when we asked people what they liked the least about Lynn. Infrastructure was flagged up as the biggest issue facing the town.
Nelson’s Quay is almost certain to draw a broadside from those who say the town’s congestion needs addressing before any further major developments. The theme has become a familiar one.
Just weeks ago, plans for 600 new homes at nearby Knights Hill were thrown out by West Norfolk’s planning committee.
The site was earmarked for development in the council’s own structure plan, which sets out where new homes and businesses should be built.
But councillors heard the proposals would bring more traffic to already-congested roads around the site, impacting on residents’ quality of life.
Despite warnings they could find themselves losing a costly appeal if the developers dug in, they rejected them.
Retired business administrator John Marrow, 72, who has lived on Hall Lane since 1977, spoke at the planning meeting.
Afterwards, he said it would have been “an absolute disaster” if the plans had been given the go-ahead.
“It’s now beyond saturation,” he said. “The through way, the A148, is grid-locked anyway.”
Councillors returning from a site visit before the meeting were delayed when their bus was caught up in traffic.
“There are now, I believe 2,000 potential brownfield sites around King’s Lynn which could be used,” said Mr Marrow. “But the borough doesn’t seem to want to do anything about those.”
West Norfolk faces a difficult balancing act between government housing targets of hundreds of new homes a year and how much extra pressure Lynn’s roads, GP surgeries and other services can take.
Central government has reduced the council’s housing target from 670 to 550 a year.
The council’s long term Local Plan, which has just gone out to consultation, sets out a sea-change in thinking regarding how this might best be met.
Richard Blunt, its cabinet member for development, said a “clear growth corridor” had been identified along the A10.
But all roads literally lead to Lynn, with routes to and from the north, south, east and west converging on the southern outskirts of the town.
Both the A47 and A17 run through open countryside, so could arguably be dualled - were the political will and funding ever there.
But the already-congested A10 runs close to people’s doorsteps. It also now runs close to the South Lynn strategic urban expansion area, where officials say almost 4,000 new homes could eventually be built.
Tailbacks already often stretch miles to the south of Lynn already. People living in West Winch, North Runcton and Setchey fear their villages will become grid-locked if more homes are built.
West Winch Parish Council chairman Paul Foster said some were already voting with their feet.
“I said to my wife the other day have you seen the number of houses up for for sale in West Winch,” he said.
Villagers have been hoping for a by-pass for decades. Instead, a £13.5m relief road is included in the development brief, linking the A10 and A47 via North Runcton, to reduce pressure on the sprawling Hardwick Roundabout. Talks are still under way with landowners regarding how it might be funded.
“What they’re proposing is a a street, not a road,” said Mr Foster. “It’s not of sufficient standard to act as a by-pass.
“They’re proposing 4,000 new homes for West Winch with no infrastructure to support that.
“They’ve just turned down the 600 homes for North Wootton because there’s no infrastructure, so how can they develop this end of the town with no infrastructure?”
Lynn’s infrastructure was identified as the biggest issue facing the town by some 35.7pc of respondents in our survey, ahead of the state of the high street, crime and state of the NHS.
The big question is what can be done about it. Over the years to come, there may be no easy answers for Lynn.
OPINION: King’s Lynn - a grand old port grappling modern day ills and growing pains.
I can see a bright future for Lynn if the town can deal with the present.
Two things came through loud and clear from our survey.
It’s one thing moaning about how bad the traffic is or how poorly-served we are by our roads. What we need are creative thinking and solutions.
Making better use of the roads we’ve got would be a good starting point, since we can’t just demolish half the town to make way for new ones.
Should we consider opening Harding’s Way to more than the occasional bus or cyclist..? Or is there even a case for a South Lynn bypass running along the river from the Cut Bridges to Boal Quay?
Is the one-way system fit for purpose, or does it just create a slow-moving traffic jam orbiting the town centre? Could park and ride help solve the A10 bottleneck south of town?
These are questions the town needs to be talking about. Infrastructure truly is its biggest issue.
Lynn also has plenty to shout about, as many of you so rightly say, with its wealth of historic buildings, unrivalled heritage and arts scene.
Do we make the most of places like Tower Street - a vibrant micro quarter of eateries and independent retailers just a stone’s throw from the town centre.