Longwater – the background story

The chaos of Longwater is a text-book example of a lax approach to car-centric planning with no long term plan as to how the traffic problems would be handled. Over the past 30 years pedestrians and cyclists have been all but ignored.

How we got to where we are

The Longwater shops, a place built for cars rather than people – Photo Derek

Dereham Road used to be the main A47 into the city from the west. It was a very busy road but until the early 1990s anyone cycling between Longwater Lane in New Costessey to the Norfolk Showground and beyond could do so fairly easily. It was pretty much open countryside, albeit with some small industry in the valley.

1992: The southern bypass is built

In 1992 the A47 was re-routed along the Norwich southern bypass to avoid Easton village and a junction was added at the point where the new road crossed the old, thus the Longwater junction was born.

A dumbbell junction

When it was built it really only had to cope with traffic heading to and from the city and some industrial traffic to and from the valley, so it was built as a small dumbbell junction.

A dumbbell junction is one of the cheapest grade-separated junctions meaning the main road passes under or over the crossing road. In this case the A47 goes under a bridge carrying the Dereham Road, now re-numbered the A1074 . It only has one flyover bridge connecting two small roundabouts on each side. The point is it was never intended to handle large traffic volumes and – for a while – all was fine.

No footpath is provided

The worst aspect of the Longwater junction from day one was that it was designed for motor traffic only, no thought was given to pedestrian – much less cycle – traffic. For some reason it wasn’t considered necessary to provide proper pedestrian access from the city over the A47 towards the showground or anywhere west such as Easton village or the college.

Of course an “unofficial” footpath in the form of a muddy track was soon worn across the grass verges either side of the bridge by the many people who had to go that way and to this day the muddy track by the side of the road is still there.

Cyclists were expected to ride in the traffic, but in the early days that wasn’t too much of a problem.

The Longwater junction (Google Maps)

1996: Badly planned development – Pt 1 Longwater shops

In 1996 the area around the Longwater junction became developed as an out-of-town shopping centre, a collection of shops surrounded by large car parks built on the lines of an American strip mall. As well as this, more industry was established in the valley. This was all connected to the eastern of the two dumbbell roundabouts via a short section of dual carriageway called William Frost Way and no improvement was made to the existing junction to help it cope with the extra traffic load, which of course was significant.

William Frost Way was originally touted in the local press as being the western end of the then proposed Northern Distributor Road (NDR). Whether or not that was true we’ll never know, but in the event this section of the NDR was scrapped, leaving William Frost Way to deal with the traffic heading to and from the shops and the industrial units.

William Frost Way is actually a sort of roundabout, the traffic has to travel all the way down one side, go around the roundabout at the bottom and then back up the other side.

This was the start of the traffic chaos the place is known for today, but much more was to come. It was just about possible to get across William Frost Way on foot if you had your wits about you but cycling over the junction became more and more dangerous.

2006: Badly planned development – Pt 2 Queen’s Hills

In 2006 a largely car-dependent housing development of more than 1300 houses was started at Queen’s Hills to the north of the junction, William Frost Way being the only access to this huge new estate. This, of course, has made the traffic problems very much worse. Queen’s Hills is now almost finished and by 2015 the traffic problem has become almost impossible, with queues of over an hour to get out of the shops and from Queen’s Hills being not uncommon.

2015: Badly planned development – Pt 3 The roundabout bypass

In 2015 a huge new Next department store was added to the mix on William Frost Way and to cope with the added traffic – and to do something about the existing chaos – a slip road for traffic heading into the city was added so it could avoid the roundabout. This makes cycling into the city a life-threatening experience as high speed traffic free flows onto Dereham Road from the left without warning or any kind of cycle crossing.

The building of the roundabout bypass made getting across what is now three carriageways of William Frost Way even more difficult, but of course, people still have to do it.

Getting in and out of Queen’s Hills can still be a real nightmare and there is a long-running campaign by people there to get a second route to their community, so far with no luck.

2018: Badly planned development – Pt 4 More housing

As if this chaotic approach to urban planning wasn’t bad enough, into all this mix is now being added Hampden View, a vast new largely car-dependent housing estate on the southern side of Dereham Road and which, of course, has no direct pedestrian or cycle route to the shops.

2021: Badly planned development – Pt 5 Another large supermarket and industrial unit

An additional supermarket has now been given the go-ahead along with a new industrial unit, both of which will bring even more traffic to William Frost Way and the overloaded A47 junction.

All of the above is almost a text-book example of badly planned car-centric development which is continuing to this day, absolutely no lessons have been learned over the past 25 years.

Walking and cycling through the chaos

Longwater was never intended to be a place to walk or cycle to or through, but of course people do because the shops are a major destination and not everyone drives.

Perhaps unexpectedly there is some reasonably good cycling infrastructure from the city to the shops and through to Queen’s Hills, but not as far as or across the junction. What does exist is shared-use pavements of a fairly good quality but it’s badly designed in places and has gaps.


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