Will Norwich’s northern distributor road bring a boost for public transport?

The northern distributor road is key to a package of transport improvements in Norwich, according to council leaders who back the �112.5m scheme.

The road, they say, will help ease rat-running to the north and east of the city, but, by removing traffic from elsewhere in the city, it will also unlock a raft of public transport and environmental improvements.

But critics say such improvements could be made without the need for a 14km road cutting through swathes of the Norfolk countryside while paving the way for the building of thousands of new homes.

The package of transport improvements is known as the Norwich Area Transportation Strategy (NATS) and, according to bosses at Norfolk County Council, it has already brought benefits to people who live, shop and work in and around Norwich.

They point to the new bus station in Norwich, the St Augustine's Street gyratory scheme near Anglia Square and a low emission zone in Castle Meadow.

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They say the NDR is needed to ease congestion on Norwich's streets so six rapid bus transit routes can be created.

The aim is that buses along those corridors – connecting places such as Wymondham, Costessey, Taverham, Thorpe St Andrew, the airport and Rackheath to the city centre – will have priority routes over other traffic.

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That will mean, council bosses say, that they face fewer delays and, because they will run every 10 minutes, they will be an attractive alternative to the car.

County council officers say taking traffic off the city's roads through the NDR is the only way to create the 'elbow room' needed to make the rapid bus transit routes work.

Preparatory work on the first �7.2m rapid bus transit scheme – down Dereham Road – has already begun and �1.5m is available to pay for it through ring-fenced funding from the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.

But the scheme has already caused controversy, with families unhappy about a move to stop right turns into Heigham Street and Old Palace Road, because they fear it will lead to rat-running on other streets.

Other proposals suggested as part of the NATS package include closing Westlegate to general traffic and banning traffic , except for buses, in St Stephen's Street, Red Lion Street, Theatre Street, Prince of Wales Road and Surrey Street.

New cycle lanes, where cyclists can ride against the traffic flow in some one-way streets are also part of the package, while suggestions have been made that cyclists could be allowed to cycle on pedestrianised streets in the city centre between 5pm and 10pm.

The council says the major elements of the strategy will cost �145m, funded through borrowing by the county council, government grants and the Community Infrastructure Levy – a new contribution made by developers.

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'It's about opening up the city. We have got increasing congestion around the inner ring road and people rat-running through residential streets. Buses cannot operate properly and the air quality is not good.

'We view the NDR as something which will help us to remove that traffic from the city centre and enable improvements to walking and cycling, while retaining the historic environment as well as the quality of life.

'It's really good for the city and will unlock the potential of places such as the airport, which will mean more jobs.

'It's about linking employment areas to ensure the city is a better place to move around in.'

She stressed the council's support for the NDR was inextricably linked to the NATS scheme.

She said: 'We are not just in it to build a road, but to benefit from the other opportunities which go with that.'

Andrew Proctor, leader of Broadland District Council, agreed. He said: 'This isn't just about the NDR, but the NDR is a key part of the NATS. If you look at the long term, if you want to get people to use public transport, you have to make sure public transport measures are planned for the future.

'This is about the long-term. These are growth proposals about better access to where people work, such as Broadland Business Park and Norwich International airport.

'Anything that improves things for people to get to these businesses has got to be a good thing.'

Under the Joint Core Strategy, a blueprint for future development in and around Norwich over the next 15 years, 37,000 new homes and 27,000 new jobs are earmarked for the area.

Critics say the NDR's main purpose is to fuel that growth, but Mr Proctor said: 'I know people think all the growth is predicated by the NDR, but that's a very narrow perspective to take.

'We need to look holistically across the districts at where we will be five, 10 and 15 years from now and what we need to be doing for those people who are 10 to 20-years-old now.'

Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said NATS was an integral part of the whole project.

He said; 'It's a whole raft of what people might call green projects, to make it so people will be less inclined to use their cars if there's a priority bus service which is fast and reliable, along with improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.

'But without the NDR there's not a reason for those people not to rat-run in the north of the city. It's the NDR which opens up whole areas for commercial and residential uses.'

But Denise Carlo, from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, is not convinced the NDR is needed to deliver public transport improvements, or if it will allow them.

She said: 'One thing which traffic models show is that the NDR will increase traffic on the radial routes in north-east Norwich, which buses need to get into the city centre.

'There's much cheaper ways to take the traffic out than by building a �112.5m road. For instance, in the 1980s and the 1990s, the council was lobbying about how desperately they needed to complete the inner ring road and said if it was not completed it would be disastrous.

'But it was rejected at a public inquiry and they had to come up with another solution. That was the park and ride system, which they now trumpet as a big success. But they wouldn't have done it if they'd had their way.

'If they did not build the NDR then they could come up with other options.

'For example, they could limit the amount of parking in Norwich city centre and make park-and-ride cheaper, to encourage people onto public transport.'

Ms Carlo added that what was needed was a sustainable transport strategy for the whole of the Norwich area, with an 'appropriate' level of road building.

She said: 'They are talking about these rapid bus transit routes, but that will not happen until the NDR has been built and by then people will have got used to driving in their cars. It's very hard to get people to switch to public transport once that has happened.'

The county council insists it has looked at alternative options, including the ill-fated orbital bus route, which was trialled between 2005 and 2007 and failed to attract enough passengers to cover a third of its operating costs.

Norfolk County Council is hoping to convince the government that the northern distributor road, which supporters say will generate a �1.3bn boost to the local economy, is worth backing.

The council has spent the past decade working up its plans for the �112.5m NDR around Norwich, but the authority needs to prove the 14km dual carriageway, stretching from the A47 at Postwick to the A140 near Norwich International Airport, deserves to get �67.5m from the government.

A submission making the case for the NDR, was posted to the Department for Transport earlier this month.

The authority now faces an anxious wait until December when a make or break decision is given on whether the government will provide the cash.

It is in a 'development pool' – competing for a share of �630m with more than 40 other schemes around the country.

The submission includes details of the Postwick Hub – changes to the A47 near Broadland Business Park which recently got planning approval from Broadland District Council.

The Department for Local Government has previously indicated �21m has been earmarked for the alterations to that junction, which is seen as the gateway to the eastern section of the road.

The submission also includes information about the Norwich Area Transport Strategy, which is a raft of improvements to public transport in Norwich, such as rapid bus transit routes and better cycling routes.

But critics, including the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, the Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk, Stop Norwich Urbanisation (SNUB) and Norwich and Norfolk Friends of the Earth, are urging the government not to award funding.

They argue that the road will not ease congestion, lead to swathes of the countryside having homes built on them and lead to even more cars.

They say the county council has not properly tested alternatives to the NDR and that it will divert money from more sustainable transport measures.

The scheme has had a difficult journey to get to this stage. It was originally conceived as stretching all the way around the north of the city from Postwick to join the southern bypass to the west of the city.

But that was then scaled back – to go from Postwick to the A1067. But then that scheme too was then reduced, and the current proposal is for 14km of dual carriageway stretching from the A140 at Norwich International Airport to Postwick.

However, the council still harbours hopes that, at some point in the future, the section from the A140 to the A1067 can be built.

The council is expecting the government to inform them if the scheme will get funding by December and, if successful, officers are eyeing an opening date for the road of spring 2017.

The public has an opportunity to comment on the bid until October 14. Comments can be made to the DfT by emailing development.pool@dft.gsi.gov.uk

In tomorrow's EDP we look in more detail at the opposition to the NDR.

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