20 June 2020
Green Party councillors for the city centre have penned an open letter to the Norfolk County Councillor in charge of transport calling for more streets to be opened to pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchairs as part of the coronavirus response. The letter, sent by email on 19 June, is below.
Dear Cllr Wilby,
We are writing as the three councillors who represent Mancroft Ward on Norwich City Council about the proposed traffic changes in our area in response to coronavirus.
We fully support the specific proposals to increase space for walking, cycling and wheelchairs on St Benedict’s and Exchange Streets which will allow the businesses there to trade effectively. We hope that similar measures to end the problems posed by traffic will be taken on the other streets mentioned in the proposals currently out for consultation.
However, we are extremely concerned that the proposals do not go anywhere near far enough. Below is an outline of our concerns and the questions that we believe need to be answered:
It is deeply worrying that it has taken more than five weeks for Norfolk County Council to come up with plans for just two streets in Norwich. The Government announced on 9th May that local councils should take action to make walking and cycling safe “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect” . By the time the county council implements the changes in the city centre of Norwich, people will have been back at work for weeks. People are, right now, running a daily risk between catching coronavirus on crowded pavements or being run over by stepping out to avoid other passers-by. This is especially the case as people are avoiding public transport and so those who otherwise have been on buses are now on the road. Various towns in Norfolk and in Suffolk have already acted to implement emergency measures to protect people. Where is the urgency in regards to Norwich?
The delay is also proving destructive to businesses. We have been told by business owners on St Benedict’s Street that they are on the brink of closure and any further delay, even by a matter of days, could push them over the edge. The summer is a crucial time for businesses in the Norwich Lanes and having space for their customers in nice weather is essential. But by the time your proposals come into effect, many summer weeks will already have passed, missing an opportunity to save businesses, jobs and the beautiful character of Norwich city centre.
There is furthermore a lack of certainty regarding the future timing of the proposals. We have seen no timetable for action. That makes it near impossible for businesses to plan effectively their reopening, and for people to plan their return to work. It also means there is no means of holding the council to account. Will you commit to publishing a timetable for the proposed changes, laying out how your council will act with utmost urgency?
A too-narrow focus
The proposals outlined so far are contained entirely within the city centre area. While we represent the city centre ward and are supportive of the proposals made so far, you must be aware that the ways in which people travel into the city centre will also have an impact. The guidance from the Department for Transport urged councils to adopt “‘Whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres”. In Norwich, for example, that could mean installing pop-up cycle lanes on those sections of the Dereham Road that are currently missing them, as one of the main cycle routes to St Benedict’s, or on other key routes into the city. Indeed, there is a whole suite of measures in the emergency response from the Government that Norfolk County Council seem to have simply ignored, such as reducing speed limits and using “modal filtering” to create low-traffic residential neighbourhoods. Can you provide any evidence of whether the county council has considered these other measures, especially for outside of the immediate city centre? If not, why not?
A further key action that appears to have been omitted by the county council is around schools. We know that schools can become pinch-points, and as such having traffic nearby was dangerous even before coronavirus, with the harm done to children by air pollution. Other councils have pushed ahead with “School Streets” to prevent traffic from choking up streets around schools at key times. Why has this not been considered for Norwich?
Now or never
The Government guidance issued in May highlighted what has become evident to many over recent months – that cleaner air, quieter streets and healthier ways of travelling all bring social, economic and environmental benefits. The reduced traffic during lockdown was a saving grace for many, especially for families with small children. Residents in our ward do not want to go back to the old days of congestion and cramped pavements. Instead they want to see Norwich looking to the future now, and that cannot be a future which is so dependent on cars.
To miss the chance we have now to open up our city to a cleaner and happier way of living would not only be a shame, it would heighten the risk of a second coronavirus spike, and it would lock in the double emergencies of air pollution and overarching climate breakdown.
The Government said in early May that: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities.” We would urge you to be more ambitious and faster in seizing that moment, because it has very nearly passed.
We look forward to hearing from you,
Cllr Jamie Osborn, Cllr Martin Schmierer, Cllr Sandra Bogelein
Norwich City Councillors for Mancroft Ward
Cllr Jamie Osborn
Mancroft Ward (Green Party)
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