2 June 2012

The End of the Road

by Denise Carlo

The world's wealth is largely concentrated in the hands of a few who spend it in unsustainable ways.
This state of affairs sadly applies to Norfolk, wherethe County Council is channelling millions from the public purse into its political project for a Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) whilst cutting back on essential services such as youth work, social care and public transport.

We are not talking about a cuddly local bypass here. A 19.5km 4-lane road to the north of Norwich is viewed by Norfolk's business and political interests as one element in their bigger transport agendaas outlined in the 2001 Norfolk Shaping the Future strategy: dualled roads all the way from London (A11) and from the Midlands to GreatYarmouth (A47), a new Norwich northern distributor (NDR) to form a third ring around the City in conjunction with the Norwich Southern Bypass; expansion of Norwich Airport to 2.3 million passengers per annum (ppa); a Third River Crossing and Outer Harbour for Great Yarmouth.

Over the past decade, the twin crises of climate change and peak oil have deepened, but they have not altered the tarmac laying ambitions of Norfolk’s elite. Dualling of the A11 is on the way to completion. GreatYarmouth’s Outer Harbour opened in 2008. Last year, the Department for Transport awarded £86.5 million to a NDR and Broadland District Council gave planning consent to the first stage in the guise of a £19 million access road (Postwick Hub) to a business park.

Alongside these successes, 'Shaping the Future's ambitions have suffered some blips. Environmental groups have so far managed to hold off A47 dualling, despite repeated lobbying by the Pro-A47Alliance. The NDR has been trimmed to a three quarters route; stopping stop short of the River Wensum, a candidate Special Conservation Area, although the clamour continues for a complete NDR. Norwich Airport passenger numbers fell steeply from 770,000 ppa in 2007 to 420,000 ppa in 2011.

Meanwhile, the NDR price tag has risen to £141.5 million, leaving local authorities to fund the £55 million shortfall. Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk Councils have agreed in principle to provide up to £40 million from receipts raised from the new Community InfrastructureLevy (CIL). Acting together through the Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP), the Councils have allocated 37,000 new dwellings in and around Norwich, to be built over the next fourteen years. This quantum of housing set out in the Joint Core Strategy is viewed as necessary to support a NDR as well as meet housing demand. Ten thousand dwellings have been conveniently sited in a 'North East Growth Triangle' on countryside opened up this road, even though developers have said they can ‘live with or without it’. A development charge of £115 will be levied on everynew dwelling to help support infrastructure, with top priority going to funding a NDR. This leaves a substantial shortfall in funding for vital community infrastructure such as health, education, greentransport and open spaces.

The combined push by traditional political and business interests in Norfolk for major transport infrastructure, especially road building, is deep rooted and ideological. Norfolk is described as being 'remote' and the County regarded as having been short changed by central government over the lack of dual carriageway connections. Major new roads are seen as amajor means of attracting jobs and prosperity, even though all the empirical evidence has shown that large new roads can also suck development out of an area, especially where weaker local economies are opened up to stronger performingareas.

Norfolk’s preoccupation with road building and hard infrastructure generally is emblematic of the unsustainable global system. Reliance on major infrastructure for transport, telecommunications, energy, water and waste as a means of stimulating and supporting economic activity, underpins the global carbon-generating economic growth and consumption model.

Coming back to Norfolk, it is important to continue challenging the rationale for a NDR, the main section of which has yet to receive planning permission. Strong lobbying against a NDR in favour of a sustainable transport strategy by green groups persuaded the Department for Transport to make funding for a NDR conditional upon the delivery of sustainable transport. Funding is by no means guaranteed especiallyif the Government is forced to scale back public expenditure on road building as a result of escalating problems in the Eurozone.

Therefore, OneWorld Column readers, please join us if you can in:

A Public Gathering Against a Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) -on Monday 11 June at The Forum, Norwich(photo at 11.45 – 12 noon)

Norfolk County Council will be holding an all day (9am - 5pm) public exhibition on a NDR before submitting a planning application in theautumn.

The Norwichand Norfolk Transport Action Group, other local communitygroups and the Green Party will raise public awareness about spending £142 million on a NDR whilstcutting essential services. Please help inone or more of the following ways, if you can:

* visit the NDR exhibition between9am and 5pm and fill in a comment form.

* take part in a press photo opportunity - Gather outside the railings by St Peter Mancroft Church opposite The Forum from1 1.30 onwards, for a picture at 12 noon. Please bring placards to make a colourful scene.

* help to leaflet passers and encourage them to visit the exhibition and make their views known.

* If you can help , please email Denise Carlo on denise.carlo@btinternet.com or ring 01603 504563.

We look forward to seeing you!

Denise Carlo, Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group


  1. Much of the criticism is well placed, although I do in fact support the dualling of the remaining dangerous and congested section of the A11 and believe that there should be improvements to the A47. But there also needs to be more emphasis on alternative investment, not only on basic welfare and related services, but on regional and local economic development of a green and sustainable kind. Improving broadband and other IT systems, supporting local production, recycling and healthier consumption of all kinds, investing in local amenities (including sports facilities and libraries) are all 'productive' investments. There should also be an independent review of the projected demand for use of Norwich airport which, as indicated, may well fall off - for a variety of reasons - in the coming decade.

  2. I agree with Anonymous about the importance of productive infrastructure for supporting sustainable development. We need 'soft' infrastructure such as education and skills training (ie investment in people) as well as hard infrastructure at an appropriate scale such as broadband and micro-energy generation. My blog deliberately focused on major hard infrastructure such as maor roads, airports, nuclear and coal-powered plants and energy from waste incinerators and so on; all of which involve expanding capacity in support of elusive infinite economic growth.

    A11 and A47 dualling fit into this model. The argument goes that new road capacity is required to meet traffic growth forecasts (based on population growth, car ownership and economic growth forecasts); speed up journey times (each minute saved by individual travellers is given an economic value); and reduce accidents and vehicle operating costs. However, empirical studies have shown that these objectives are eventually undermined by this economic traffic model. Over time, continued growth in car ownership as a reflection of economic growth erodes the new road capacity and time savings, leading to congestion, accidents and higher operating costs. Land opened up by road building for car-based develoment results in dispersal of land uses and lower densities which are difficult to serve by green transport, leading to more car and lorry travel.

    Addressing the problems of the A11 and A47 requires a package of measures: smaller scale improvements to the carriageways such as lower speed limits to even out traffic flows and reduce accidents; increasing the attactiveness of transport alternatives to encourage modal shift; reducing the need to travel by enhancing the containment of settlements. For example, a significant percentage of travellers on the A11 in the morning and evening rush hours are commuting relatively short distances into Norwich from small towns such as Attleborough and Wymondham.