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Revealed: Why Norwich missed out on millions to make transport better, as fresh bid lodged

Concerns have been raised that money will not be available for better bus services. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Concerns have been raised that money will not be available for better bus services. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

A fresh bid to secure millions of pounds to improve transport in and around Norwich has been lodged, but fears have been raised long-promised changes will not happen without further investment.

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways and infrastructure. Picture: Simon ParkinMartin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways and infrastructure. Picture: Simon Parkin

And the reason the city missed out on more money through the government’s £1.2bn Transforming Cities Fund bid has been revealed.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it did not feel a strong enough business case had been made, despite more than £380,000 in officer time having been spent preparing the bid.

Norwich had been among a dozen cities trying to get cash from the government’s multi-million pound pot, with Transport for Norwich submitting a bid for projects to the tune of £75m, £90m or £162m.

While council officers knew they were unlikely to get the top £162m figure, they believed they stood a good chance of securing £90m or £75m.

But those hopes were dashed in March, when the government said Norwich would have to fight for a share of £117m with Portsmouth and Stoke-on-Trent.

An expansion at Thickthorn Park & Ride is included in the bid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAn expansion at Thickthorn Park & Ride is included in the bid. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

It meant that, while the Leeds city region got £317m, Sheffield got £166m and Derby and Nottingham shared £161m, Norwich was left having to make the cash for about £32m.

The letter from the DfT stated that government officers felt the council’s “business case was not suitably developed and therefore did not make a strong enough case for investment at this stage.”

The council was told to come up with “three fully investible scenarios”, with the medium scenario based on getting £32m.

That means if the council does get money it could be that figure, above it or below it. But with two other cities in the mix, it is unlikely to be considerably more.

Green city councillor Denise Carlo. Picture: Neil DidsburyGreen city councillor Denise Carlo. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Council officers lodged their fresh business plan at the end of last week, with priority projects including:

• Improvements to St Stephens for bus passengers and pedestrians

• Thickthorn Park and Ride expansion

• Thorpe Road bus and cycle contraflow

This graphic from 2008 shows the proposed rapid bus transit routes. Green city councillor Denise Carlo fears they may never all come to fruition. Pic: Archant Library.This graphic from 2008 shows the proposed rapid bus transit routes. Green city councillor Denise Carlo fears they may never all come to fruition. Pic: Archant Library.

• Pedestrian/cycle improvements to King Street and Tombland could potentially be delivered early in the programme.

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Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways and infrastructure and chair of the Transforming Cities Joint Committee said: “It’s obviously disappointing to not be awarded the funding we originally asked for, particularly after all the work that went into it, but we are still confident of achieving a per-capita settlement in the region of £32m.

“If awarded, that is still by far the biggest investment in sustainable transport ever seen in the city.

“We are in a really strong position to hit the ground running with all of the projects we are able to secure funding for.”

Mr Wilby said officers worked closely with the DFT on the revised funding bid. He said: “The desire to get the best possible settlement for the city is evident on both sides and I’m confident this can still be achieved.

“The fund stipulates that all improvements must be delivered within a three year timescale and while favour appears to have been given to the big ticket items of other cities, such projects will inevitably be extremely difficult to deliver within that timeframe, even more so in the current climate.

“Our proposals consist of a collection of highly deliverable smaller schemes that together can bring real collective benefit to the city.

“We are seeking to continue investing in the city centre and key transport corridors and have prioritised corridors and schemes that will maximise benefits and value for money.”

He said schemes not included would remain in the wider Transport for Norwich programme and could still happen in the longer term or through other funding.

But Green city councillor Denise Carlo said: “The failure to secure a substantial grant from the government’s Transforming Cities fund creates a serious problem for the future of travel in Greater Norwich.

“Thousands of new homes and jobs in and around Norwich have been allocated in the city-wide plan on the assumption that the bus network and bus fleet would be upgraded by 2026.

“About £32m on offer from the Department for Transport won’t go far. This compares to the £0.5bn earmarked for proposed new roads around Norwich.”

She said that the 2008 public transport study for the Joint Core Strategy estimated the cost of a bus rapid transit network for Norwich at £145m - a key plank in planning.

Yet only some of the work to create that network has been done and Ms Carlo questioned here the money to turn it into a reality would come from.

She said: “Transport chiefs say councils should look at developer contributions to pay for bus improvements, but the money raised from this source is lower than predicted and a considerable proportion will go towards paying for the NDR.”

“If councils don’t find the necessary funds to deliver high quality bus improvements, people will drive everywhere and everyone will suffer from increased congestion and carbon emissions and deaths from air pollution and road crashes”.

Mr Wilby said: “With new government initiatives such as the electric bus fund, the £1bn already given to walking and cycling and people’s changing attitudes to how we travel, I am confident there will be other funding opportunities for such initiatives in the short to medium term which we will do our upmost to secure.”


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