Plan to ban cars from St Stephens Street in Norwich to take major step forward
Radical changes to Norwich city centre, which will see cars banned from St Stephens Street, will be set in motion this week, with councillors set to agree to consult the public on the shake-up.
The city and county councils have long wanted to remove general traffic from the road and are on the brink of getting their wish.
Earlier this year, highways bosses successfully got �2.6m from the government after submitting a Better Bus Area bid.
That money was to pay for a package of measures to speed up buses and one of the key things council bosses say is needed to do that is to stop the estimated 3,000 cars a day which use St Stephens Street. At a meeting of the Norwich Highways Agency Committee, made up of city and county councillors, this week, councillors are being urged to take a major step towards the scheme becoming reality.
They will be asked to give the go-ahead to sort out the traffic regulations which will shut St Stephens Street to cars and motorcycles.
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Buses, taxis, coaches, bicycles and emergency vehicles will still be able to head down the street, but cars wanting to get across the city centre will instead have to head down Queens Road to All Saints Green and then travel down Westlegate to rejoin Red Lion Street.
Traffic heading down Westlegate will no longer be able to cross into Rampant Horse Street, in front of Marks and Spencer and Debenhams, but instead forced to turn right.
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Bert Bremner, cabinet member for planning and transportation on Norwich City Council and vice-chairman of the joint committee, said: 'It will make a big difference for the city. The city is thriving despite the double dip recession and this will help it further.
'So often in St Stephens Street the buses are held up because of the cars trying to get through and taking them out will make the buses so much more reliable.
'It will be a much better place for pedestrians and, with the bus station so close, it will turn the area into a real transportation hub.'
Bus companies have already welcomed the scheme, with First buses saying it would help with 'more consistent journey times'.
The report which will come before councillors on Thursday states: 'The major bus operators serving Norwich were consulted during the preparation of the Better Bus Area Bid and they all agreed that this was the one single scheme that would have the biggest impact on improving bus reliability in the city.'
The report adds: 'St Stephens Street has historically been one of the busiest streets in the city for buses, with more services starting and terminating in the street than any other, except Castle Meadow. 'It is used by over 4.2m bus passengers a year, around 13,500 on an average day. The long-term aim is to open up a direct pedestrian route between St Stephens Street and the bus station, but this relies on redevelopment of private land and is unlikely to happen in the forseeable future.'
Traffic counts show that nearly 5,000 vehicles a day use St Stephens Street, of which 1,500 are buses. The majority of the estimated 3,000 cars which use it are heading either for the Castle Mall car parks, or to the train station or Tombland areas.
As part of a separate scheme, council bosses also want to have buses travelling two ways down Chapel Field North, with cars heading into the city from that direction only able to get as far as the car park next to The Assembly House.
While that scheme missed out on funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, officers remain confident they can introduce the changes in the future.
Councillors will be asked on Thursday to agree that officers can carry out the necessary work to secure the necessary traffic orders while launching consultation with the public and 'key stakeholders'.
Council bosses hope, that subject to consultation, work to close St Stephens Street and Surrey Street to traffic could be completed by March 2014.
A separate consultation is already under way on proposals for a �925,000 bus lane heading up Grapes Hill, using money from the Better Bus Area fund.
• To view photos of St Stephens Street through the years, view the photo gallery at the top-right of this page.
• Do you think banning cars from St Stephens Street is a good idea? Write to Norwich Evening News Letters, Prospect House. Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email email@example.com