Tories halt car ban plan for Westlegate

SHAUN LOWTHORPE Conservative county councillors came under fire yesterday for again putting the brakes on a scheme to close a Norwich street to traffic.

SHAUN LOWTHORPE

Conservative county councillors came under fire yesterday for again putting the brakes on a scheme to close a Norwich street to traffic.

Members of the Norwich Highways Committee failed to agree on an experiment to close Westlegate between 10am and 4pm after Tory chairman Tony Adams used his casting vote to put off a decision to consult the public on the move until more research was carried out.

The move infuriated city councillors from the other three main parties, but there was agreement on a range of other works including restricting access to St George's Street, next to St Andrew's Hall, by closing it to through traffic in both directions at St George's Bridge.

Other measures, including traffic calming and pavement widening, were also agreed at Tombland, St Andrew's Street, Bank Plain, and Gaol Hill.

Jonathan Field, managing director of John Lewis, which supported the Westlegate plans, said he was disappoint-ed by the move.

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“It would have been sensible to push ahead with a temporary pedestrianisation just to see what would happen,” he said. “That would have made it easier for the pedestrian flow up Westle-gate.”

Brenda Ferris, a Labour member of the committee and deputy leader of the city council, accused the Tories of kicking the Westlegate plans into the long grass.

She said the decision strengthened the case for Norwich to become a unitary authority in charge of all council services instead of the current split with County Hall.

“An experimental closure is the next logical step,” she said. “We're convinced this would help make Norwich a pleasant liveable city. Our concern is that what happens within the city is being determined by two county councillors, neither of whom live in Norwich.”

Lib-Dem councillor Judith Lubbock said she was bitterly disappointed at the decision.

“Their objections seemed to be centred on the safety of pedestrians, but currently there are 5,000 cars using that road each day - surely that isn't good for pedestrians?” she said. “The county council wants to look at congestion-charging for the city but this is a more equal way of keeping cars out of the city centre.”

Rupert Read, of the Green Party, said it was vital to cut traffic levels in the city centre.

“What's the point of having a joint highways committee if there are issues where the county Conservatives, who do not live in the city, are not prepared to listen to the overwhelming majority of people including businesses,” he said.

The Tories previously opposed a move in 2004 to shut the street insisting that it was delayed to consider the impact of the Chapelfield develop-ment, with a package of pavement widening and lane reductions introduced instead.

However, research has shown that congestion has been less than expected in Chapelfield Road, despite a rise in traffic levels.

Adrian Gunson, the county council's cabinet member for transport and planning, said the latest Westlegate plans were ill-thought-out and the road was a significant route for traffic heading across the city from the east and south.

He also had concerns about the risk to pedestrians if Barclays Bank customers were still to be allowed access to the car park in the street.

“I don't know why they are making such a fuss,” he added. “They are clutching at straws to argue for unitary status. The fact is we agreed four out of five schemes and asked for more time on the fifth.

“I'll certainly defend the right of people outside of Norwich to have a say on what's happening inside Norwich.”