No getting a Straight answer to a Straight problem
PUBLISHED: 20:49 28 January 2016 | UPDATED: 20:49 28 January 2016
SELDOM does an issue of this newspaper not include mention of the Acle New Road, usually reports of accidents, hold-ups, closures or diversions, and readers’ letters offering suggestions for improvements. Perhaps memory is failing me, but the solution wrangle appears to have gone quiet recently, so the public might well assume that all is dormant.
The recent acquisition of the Outer Harbour by the Peel Ports Group will doubtless resurrect pressure for adequate road links to serve the facility, a debate that inevitably will include calls for the Acle Straight to be dualled and the counter argument that widening, improved driving standards and the imposition of a better traffic management system will suffice.
It is claimed that any solution will involve problems, not purely environmental ones. But to a layman like me, whose civil engineering experience never progressed beyond my basic Meccano set in boyhood, widening or dualling look easy-peasy and relatively cheap. After all, when it was built in the 1830s, it was all done by manual labour without mechanised plant.
The nine-mile length between Yarmouth and Acle is bordered by grazing marches, so land acquisition for widening should be uncomplicated and inexpensive. The only awkward bit is the curve where the Halvergate branch road joins it at a point encompassing the new Hindu temple (formerly the Stracey Arms), a preserved wind-pump, a dwelling, and a humped bridge spanning the Yarmouth to Norwich railway line.
Perhaps somebody delving into its history will find some obscure legal clause stipulating that two centuries after its 1831 opening, it must revert to its original designation of a toll road, having been officially “disturnpiked” around 1863. That would mean that in another 15 years – plenty of time to surmount legal and construction problems and bring about major improvement - a pay-to-use turnpike could be ready!
With foresight, perhaps the original toll-houses ought to have been preserved for possible future re-use. There were at least two in Yarmouth, on opposite sides of the old Suspension Bridge, both six-sided buildings measuring only three yards across, plus one at the Halvergate junction, and the fourth at Acle. When use of the road itself became free, crossing the Yarmouth Suspension Bridge still incurred a toll until 1920.
One redundant Yarmouth toll-house on the town side of the river remained open, not for collecting fees but as a boot and shoe repair shop for 70 years until 1953 when it was demolished to permit road widening. It might also have sold teas!
It was probably that building which became an impromptu meeting place in 1916 – exactly a century ago this April – for Yarmouthians intending to trek along the Acle New Road to Norwich to escape the heavy bombardment being inflicted on the town by German battleships during the First World War.
The new road across marshland aimed to cut the distance between Norwich and Yarmouth by more than three miles. As the former A47 passed through Filby and Caister, the early Acle Straight was officially B1140 but was reclassified as A1096 in 1927 and upgraded to A47 nine years later, the old route via Caister being renumbered A1064.
The carefully-worded tolls make fascinating reading today and perhaps were beyond the comprehension of some payers. According to a Yarmouth tolls board, all had been approved by Act of Parliament. I presume that meant they were drawn up by lawyers, comprehensively covering every eventuality with little punctuation or wriggle room for manoeuvre.
The first read: “For every foot passenger (except when employed in driving a waggon cart or suchlike carriage or in driving any horse cattle or beast) the sum of one penny.” Then came: “For every person riding in any waggon or cart (not being the driver thereof) the sum of one penny.” And: “For every horse ass or mule carrying one person only the sum of threepence (more than one, fourpence).”
The next listed “every horse or other beast drawing any coach chariot landau Berlin chaise calash curricle sociable vis-a-vis barouche phaeton chair gig whiskey-taxed cart caravan hearse litter or other such carriage the sum of ninepence.”
Every horse or other beast “drawing any sledge dray or carriage without wheels” was charged 1s 6d (7½p today); “every horse or other beast drawing any luggage cart tumbril cart where only the horse or other beast is used drawing the same the sum of one shilling.”
Other tolls were twopence “for every ox cow calf horse mule or ass”; and a penny “for every pig sheep or lamb.”
And as the mechanised era had begun, the fee for a pantechnicon or motor waggon was one shilling, a car sixpence, motor-cycle with side-car threepence (twopence without a side-car). A humble pedal cycle attracted a penny toll.
In an ideal world, nine miles of straight highway with only one gentle curve would seem to be safe for all and not requiring drastic change, but speeding and overtaking can cause problems and serious accidents and delays inevitably occur. It seems unlikely that there will ever be a consensus on either widening or dualling, and one also wonders how influential the environmental lobby will prove to be.
As and when a decision is ever reached, perhaps in Whitehall, it will not be received with universal acclaim.
Widening was opposed by Yarmouth and Broadland councils, Norfolk police and most locals voicing opinions: all called for dualling, arguing that it would improve safety, reduce travel time and help our borough’s economic progress.
Early this century, improvement had become a point of contention because the road passed through Broadland, an area deemed of ecological and conservation significance restricting development. The Broads Authority, Environment Agency and Council for National Parks were interested parties, worried about the impact of improvement schemes.
The last news I recall was a statement about five years ago that there would be a delay in announcing the findings of a feasibility study into moving ditches without upsetting delicate marshland habitats.