A47 Acle Straight: The key issues around the calls for the road to be dualled
- Credit: Nick Butcher
“The story of dualling the Acle Straight is rather like a game of snakes and ladders, except that there are no ladders, and, even after 27 years, the game has not left the first square.”
Those were words spoken in Parliament by then Great Yarmouth MP Tony Wright back in 1998. The latest snub over a scheme to dual that section of the A47 means it is now closer to 50 years.
The announcement that the dualling of the section between Acle and Yarmouth will not be included in the third round of the government’s road improvement strategy - for projects from 2025 to 2030 - will have a wide impact.
From tourists heading to Norfolk for holidays, to the burgeoning offshore industry seen as so crucial for the county’s economy, the fact the key road into Yarmouth remains single carriageway will frustrate hopes for many.
Supporters of dualling have often made the case that a dual carriageway would be safer than a single carriageway, particularly given the dykes either side, which have claimed people’s lives after crashes.
But critics of the scheme contend the environmental cost of dualling in a landscape of special scientific interest is unacceptable.
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So what are the arguments for and against the road?
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One of the arguments for dualling is that it would make the road safer. In the five years from 2010 to 2014, there were 42 crashes on the road which resulted in death, serious or slight injury.
There were three fatalities, 10 serious injuries and 29 slight injuries. A 2017 report drawn up by consultants Mouchel stated that the Acle Straight had above national average accident rates.
One of the issues with the road is there have been tragedies where cars involved in crashes have ended up in the water-filled ditches and dykes by the side of the road, which has meant drivers have drowned.
Even a minor crash on the single carriageway can lead to the road being closed for long periods while the scene is made safe and vehicles removed.
Some safety work has been done in recent years, including new traffic signs, road markings, installation of hazard posts and kerb alignment changes.
Before the dualling of the A11, there was criticism that having a single carriageway into Norfolk gave the perception of the county being difficult to get to.
That has changed, but, it must still come as a surprise to visitors that Great Yarmouth - the biggest seaside resort in Norfolk - is not better connected.
Queues on the Acle Straight, whether caused by congestion or a crash, can be off-putting to visitors, who may decide not to heard for Yarmouth.
There will be work done to the Vauxhall roundabout to ease the congestion there, but even that work, due to take place in 2018, has been delayed.
2) Offshore energy
Given its location, Great Yarmouth has long been a base for energy operations in the North Sea, traditionally oil and gas.
But, as attention switches to newer forms of energy, the town is increasingly looking to sell itself as a centre for excellence for renewables, such as energy from wind farms.
Two Enterprise Zones have been created in the borough, which aim to support the development of that energy sector and create thousands of jobs.
Millions of pounds could be spent on an ambitious project to make Norfolk a hotbed for the offshore green energy industry - creating hundreds of new jobs, through the creation of the Great Yarmouth Operations and Maintenance Campus on the southern tip of the South Denes peninsula.
Having a single carriageway connecting the town to the heart of Norfolk and Norwich is seen as something of a brake on that potential being fulfilled.
While the £120m third river crossing which will link the port and enterprise zone with the section of the A47 which used to be the A12, that is of limited benefit for traffic coming and going from other parts of the country.
However, even the most vociferous supporters of the dualling are aware that the special nature of the landscape around the Acle Straight creates challenges.
Parts of the landscape are special areas of conservation and sites of special scientific interest. Those are constraints which Highways England say must be carefully considered.
Dykes around the road are one of the few habitats of the Little Whirlpool Ramshorn Snail - which is on an international ‘red list’ of endangered species.
A project saw the snails relocated, but a five year study - running to 2023 - was needed to establish whether that has been successful.