Norwich’s Northern Distributor Road: For and against

As the government decides whether or not to award more than �65m of funding for the northern distributor road, we asked a supporter and an objector to give their views on the scheme.

In Norfolk County Council's corner is Graham Plant, the authority's cabinet member for planning and transportation, while speaking for the campaigners who want to stop the road is Denise Carlo, from the Norfolk and Norwich Transport Action Group.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, on why the northern distributor road is so vital:


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Norwich is a special city, full of distinctive character. That character is created by a unique historic street scene, supporting a thriving cultural and retail offer, plus some world class businesses and a wider economy of even greater untapped potential.

The city is surrounded by villages and market towns that look to Norwich for many services and jobs, and there is easy access to countryside and coast, and Norfolk's famed 'big skies'.

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Protecting this special character, and ensuring future economic prosperity, requires us to plan and manage growth, and invest in the necessary infrastructure to support it. Transport investment is a critical element of this.

Over the past 15 years, the county council has invested heavily in public transport in the Norwich area – providing an award-winning new bus station, the most extensive system of park-and--ride in the country; a bus/rail interchange; and a range of other improvements for buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The government assessed our work as achieving 'a step change in travel choices', leading to more people using buses, less traffic in the city centre and a better environment for all.

However, this investment in public transport, and our commitment to sustainable transport, has not stopped the growth in traffic.

Congestion on routes into Norwich and the outer and inner ring roads make access to the A47 and A11 difficult for anyone travelling from north of the city. Rat-running traffic and congestion blights the northern suburbs and surrounding villages.

This is already a major problem for existing businesses, and a drag on future economic growth. If Norfolk's population continues to grow – as it surely will – these problems can only get worse.

In partnership with the city, Broadland and South Norfolk district councils, bus operators and other partners, the county council has developed a comprehensive package of transport measures to tackle these challenges.

The Norwich Area Transport Strategy (NATS) Implementation plan represents an exciting vision of transport in Norwich, based on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and greatly enhanced facilities for cyclists and pedestrians.

Central to this vision is the NDR. Without it, only limited public transport and environmental improvements are possible. With it, Norwich and surrounding communities can develop a sustainable transport system fit for the 21st century.

The NDR will relieve beleaguered communities to the north and east of Norwich. By easing congestion at key junctions on routes into Norwich and in the city centre, it will create the 'elbow room' for much faster, frequent and reliable Bus Rapid Transit, enable more road space to be given over to cyclists and pedestrians, and allow the creation of new traffic-free public spaces.

Transport is not an end in itself, and the NDR is critical to Norwich's future economic success. Improvements in the city centre will allow the growth of businesses and jobs, but the NDR will also provide direct access to key employment sites at the airport and at Broadland Business Park, creating in total around 12,000 jobs and more than �1.3bn in economic benefits.

There will certainly be other benefits. A large portion of North Norfolk will have far easier access to the national trunk road network, and there will be a high-quality link to Norwich International airport for passengers coming from the south.

Consultation has shown the scheme is backed by 80pc of businesses. It is supported by the Norwich Chamber of Commerce and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

A small but vociferous group of opponents say 'stop the NDR and you stop growth'. History shows that this just isn't true. The houses will come to meet the demand. There are many examples of where new housing has sprung up without proper infrastructure, so we really should have learnt that lesson by now. If we want to protect Norwich and Norfolk from the worst effects of unplanned growth, muddling through just won't do.

Our choice is whether we plan and manage the growth, investing in the infrastructure necessary to ensure that the quality of life and special character of the area is preserved.

Or we can stick our heads in the sand, ignoring the 15,000 people already on waiting lists, living in hope of a home, ignoring the 37,000 homes we have to plan for, and ignoring the 70pc of local people, 80pc of local businesses, and the independent planning inspectors, who back our transport plans.

The county council has chosen to tackle existing transport problems and back the Greater Norwich Development Partnership's positive vision of the future for the Norwich area and embrace the opportunity to shape its growth. The NDR is at the heart of that vision. We hope the government shares that vision and backs our bid.

Denise Carlo, from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, on why the road is not needed:

Norfolk County Council say they are promoting the NDR to remove through traffic from the city centre and northern suburbs, and at the same time to grow the city and economy.

However, it is well known that large road developments do not go hand-in-hand with reducing congestion and traffic. Norwich itself can provide a valuable insight on this when, 20 years ago, following major opposition, plans to cut a swathe through the city centre with an extension of the inner road were defeated at a public inquiry.

Instead, Norwich's excellent park-and-ride system was developed and this has led to 20pc fewer vehicles crossing the inner ring road.

It is the park-and-ride, and not the southern bypass, which has helped ease city congestion. The bypass itself, and out-of-town development on land next to it, has increased car dependence and generated more local traffic on radial roads in south Norwich.

This is what would happen in north- east Norwich, an already congested area, if the NDR were built.

Does the city need the road to grow sustainably? The Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) has allocated land for more than 33,000 new dwellings, including 10,000 along the NDR. This planned overheating of north-east Norwich, they say, is to grow the economy.

And why force massive housing growth in north-east Norwich, whilst major employment areas are to the south west of the city and city centre?

The county plans to build the NDR before providing any cross-city bus rapid transport. So we can expect the NDR and southern bypass to be clogged up from day one.

A NDR would also enable drivers to hop from one radial road to another and, indeed, the county's figures show traffic growth on roads like Plumstead, Salhouse and Wroxham Roads, as people drive to/from the NDR.

More traffic equals more carbon emissions at a time when the age of cheap energy and transport has ended and we are seeing our climate change.

Community and environmental groups are united with developers in stating that growth is not reliant on a NDR.

We agree that small scale road links and modest improvements to the A47 Postwick junction are appropriate as part of a package, alongside excellent cross city public transport, walking and cycling.

Strong travel planning, such as travel information tailored for individuals, is an essential part of the mix, having been shown to reduce traffic by 10pc.

With a known shortfall in infrastructure spending, developers do not want to contribute in excess of �45m to a NDR, when money could be spent on community facilities such as a new school.

They are also taking a more enlightened approach to transport with approaches like seeking 'traffic neutrality' – where for every new car journey added, they plan to transfer an existing car journey to bus, foot or cycle.

If, where there is development, it is more self-contained and provides incentives for people to use such green travel modes, traffic on the outer ring road could be reduced.

And, it would also reduce rat running in the northern suburbs –some minor lanes could be closed today without an NDR.

Whereas sprawling development along an NDR will damage the local rural economy, by encouraging residents in outlying towns and villages to drive to north-east Norwich rather than use their local shops.

Council aspirations for an NDR-led increase in Norwich International airport passengers from 600,000 to 2,500,000 per annum are pie in the sky – especially when a 2005 council report said the NDR would have a limited effect on the airport's catchment.

The effect of a half NDR would be minimal. Last month, a government forecast suggested that Norwich airport passenger numbers will remain below the 1,000,000 mark until at least 2030.

Norfolk County has spent eye watering sums on preparing its NDR plans – at least �15m to date – whilst cutting essential transport.

Spending a further �112m on an unnecessary NDR and the excessive Postwick Hub project would more than pay for a public transport system, fit for the 21st century, serving the whole Norwich city region.

In conclusion, growth in the Norwich area should be public transport-led, supported by high quality walking and cycling networks and small scale road building.

Such a transport strategy would give people excellent access to housing, employment and essential services and provide access for goods, whilst at the same time protecting the environment and our quality of life.

Fingers crossed that the Department for Transport will turn down the county's NDR bid and give Norwich residents the chance to decide a better transport future.

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 that �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 it 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 linking all the way around to the southern bypass but was then cut back from Postwick to the A1067 to the west of the city.

But that scheme was then reduced, and the current proposal is for 14km of dual carriageway stretching from the A140 at the airport to Postwick, although the council hopes the remainder could be added in the future.

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

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