Road safety in North Norfolk – my letter to Duncan Baker MP

We have all been affected by the tragic death of a young teenager in Swafield. The hit-and-run incident once again shows the need for action to improve road safety on the roads between North Walsham and the coast.

I have worked with Swafield Parish Council on road safety for a number of years. I have written to them again asking what they think should be the priority for improving safety through the village. I have also contacted the police and the County Council to ask what steps they will be taking.

I know North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker is pushing for action across the district so I wrote to him a few days ago setting out my frustrations at how hard it is to get meaningful action.

From: Edward Maxfield
Sent: Wednesday, August 16, 2023 1:18 PM
To: Duncan Baker MP
Subject: Speeding on rural roads in North Norfolk

Hello Duncan

Following on from our conversation last weekend, I promised you some background on speeding and road safety issues more broadly that have been brought to my attention. There’s quite a lot to it, so apologies in advance but it all goes to building up the picture.

You will recall that we met with Parish Councillors in Trimingham some years ago to discuss their concerns about safety on the coast road through the village. No concrete action has followed.

In Northrepps we had two more accidents at the weekend and I know the Parish Council has written to you about their concerns regarding the Norwich Road.

There are concerns in Paston about the coast road, Edingthorpe about the road through the community between North Walsham and Bacton, in Bacton itself about the coast road at the Walcott end of the village, Trunch about the Norwich Road, Sidestrand about the coast road near the church and Mundesley about the Cromer Road and the road to Knapton. Together with the issues Pete has led on in Knapton that adds up to virtually every village in my division.

And of course we have now had the fatality in Swafield a few days ago.

There have been some isolated successes when it comes to getting improvements: a number of villages now have SAM2 reactive signs and village gates paid for in part through the Local Member Highways Fund. Some measures will be put in place in Knapton and the road up to Mundesley. Antingham is getting some bollards put in at the junction of Southrepps Road and the A149. It’s not in my division but I am aware that a 20mph limit is being put in at Southrepps.

The inconsistency of approach is a major problem. There’s a good deal of frustration among Parish Councillors that communities further west along the coast seem to have had a better deal when it comes to speed reduction measures being put in place. And it drives me nuts as an elected member that the answer to every proposal is ‘no, there’s no funding’ until extra political pressure is applied which might then lead to something being done. That undermines the council’s approach (as well as making me look an idiot if I explain their policy which then gets by-passed but that’s of no particular consequence) and leads to people saying ‘why have x got it when we are being told we can’t have it?’

The three top line elements to the Council’s approach as I understand it are:

  1. There is no money in the budget for ‘road improvements’ (with some small exceptions which I will come back to)
  2. The council’s approach to road safety measure (speed limits) is set out in its new ‘speed management strategy’ agreed by the council cabinet and available to view here: Speed limits – Norfolk County Council
  3. The council’s accident reduction team monitors blackspots and has funds available to install measures where reported (to the police) accidents reach a certain threshold

There are three ways that measures like speed limits, signage etc can be put in place: Parish Partnership funding where Parish Councils can bid for match funding for schemes; The Local Member Highways Fund; The Community Road Safety Fund.

All the Parish Clerks in my patch are experienced in bidding for things through the PP scheme but the weakness of the scheme is that it favours larger, wealthier parishes that can co-fund schemes (in other words, the work that gets done does not necessarily reflect the level of need with smaller parishes like Swafield and Trimingham never likely to be able to fund schemes for example).

The Local Member Highways Fund is useful for funding smaller projects but £10,000 with 12 Parishes to cover, it funds no more than two or three small schemes each year.

The Community Road Safety Fund was a huge disappointment. Trailed as a £1m fund to pay for schemes, the £10,000 per scheme cap meant most projects that would have included an engineering element were excluded. There was no scope for including schemes that fell outside the existing policy framework (so it ended up funding schemes that could have been funded from existing sources). There was no transparency around the selection criteria – except that officers seemed to want to spread the schemes around which actively punished communities with councillors who worked hard at promoting the scheme in their patches – so there was no consideration of strategic objectives.

There is one other element to the funding environment: the County Council’s Strategic Infrastructure Plan. I have criticised the plan as lacking, until recently, any investment in North Norfolk. A couple of schemes have now been added including some work on the Weaver’s Way which is welcome. That scheme being added led me to try to find out how projects are added to the scheme. Given that I have been a councillor for more than six years I was amazed how much investigation work I had to do. A few years ago I suggested to the local highways team that a suitable project would be to make the Paston Way accessible between North Walsham and Knapton and to build out the route from Knapton to Mundesley. This would have involved restoring a couple of demolisher railway bridges and work to improve the crossing of the Dilham Canal plus a new path being installed between Knapton and Mundesley. Its main benefit would have been to increase Active Travel for work, leisure, shopping and the school run. It might have given the cyclist who was killed in Swafield an alternative route. It was rejected then but I am trying to get it reconsidered now.

So far, so negative. Here’s what I think needs to be done to address the problems:

  1. There is a complete lack of a proactive strategy in relation to Highways management in the north of the county: everything is piecemeal and reactive. This needs to change. No consideration is given to the interplay of housebuilding plans in the NNDC Local Plan, the Broadland Local Plan and, crucially, the Greater Norwich Growth Plan: arguably the biggest impact on road safety between North Walsham and the coast will be 10,000 new houses being built around the NDR which will lead to far more day trippers heading to the coast. I have talked to Parish Councillors in Coltishall about this and they are very concerned about the ever-growing level of traffic going through their village.
  2. Coastal communities need a joined up scheme to reduce traffic speed to reduce the dangers faced by increased numbers of visitors including walkers. Andrew Jamieson (County Councillor for Hunstanton area) and I have talked about this in the past and he was keen to do something for villages falling within the AONB that would have made walkers and cyclists the priority.
  3. There needs to be greater transparency and consistency around decision making and costs (at the moment I have no idea how accurate cost estimates are that I and Parish Councils are given in relation to schemes particularly when large parts of the costs relate to internal legal charges.) This would help to encourage a strategic approach and would reduce resentment in communities at the lack of action.
  4. There should be greater devolution of the Highways budget. This was proposed and sadly rejected at a recent council meeting. Creating local highways committees consisting of County, District and Parish Councillors in each of the seven District areas would greatly help with transparency and strategic coherence.
  5. The Speed Management Strategy is a dismal cop-out and needs to be replaced. Other parts of the country have gone much further in enabling speed limit reductions but Norfolk County Council has rejected this approach. No doubt because of cost considerations. In my view, the strategy needs to be rewritten with 30mph through villages being the norm, with 20mph limits encouraged through village centres that lack adequate pavements or high levels of traffic.

Anything you can do to tackle any of these issues will be appreciated by many across North Norfolk. I’ll copy this to Parish Councils in my division: it doesn’t say anything I’ve not said to them in the past and I know they will be encouraged that you are taking an active interest in the issue.

Thanks and best wishes

Ed Maxfield
County Councillor for Mundesley Division
Tel. 07449 706215
Twitter: @MaxfieldEd
Facebook: CouncillorEdMaxfield