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King's Lynn South Gates need to remain as historic entrance to the town

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I read with interest in the Lynn News that officers are bringing forward proposals for a major road re-alignment at the South Gates in Lynn.

I am a resident of the town and was for 14 years the chief executive of English Heritage and have some experience of road schemes in historic towns and also heritage led regeneration schemes.

I have not seen the details of this scheme despite having requested sight of them at the KLWN Cultural Board, of which I am a member. However I want to express my concern and alarm at what seems to be proposed.

The South Gate entry to King's Lynn on London Road.. (27748159)
The South Gate entry to King's Lynn on London Road.. (27748159)

Lynn is blessed in being one of a small number of historic towns which retains a spectacular entrance through its medieval town gate. It shares this honour with much better-known historic cities like York and Canterbury. Entry to the town through this great gatehouse, large enough for a double decker bus to pass through, is one of the great assets the town has; it marks the end of the poorly designed, straggling mass, of sheds and garages that characterise the Hardwick area and heralds the start of London road, one of the most elegant Georgian streets in Norfolk. Prohibiting traffic from passing through it and bypassing it would be a grave error.

The reasons for this are as follows: Lynn’s strategy, as far as I understand it, is to be a modern town based on a unique heritage and history. This is expressed in the Borough corporate plan priority 4. This cultural foundation is one of the aspects that sets the town aside as a special place, hopefully attracting new businesses and residents.

There is no better, clearer and more graphic illustration of the town’s history and heritage than the South Gates. Entering the town through them immediately marks it out as being a special place.

This is a major advantage to Lynn, one that is a key part of its character. This is well expressed in the Corporate Business Plan policy CS13 under ‘local distinctiveness’.

There is a suggestion that bypassing the gates will, in some way, improve traffic management. If this is so, it is a misguided and old-fashioned idea.

First of all London Road narrows to two lanes at the first light-controlled crossing only two hundred yards after going through the gates.

The engineers can build five lanes of road leading up to this, but the traffic will always have to slow down and get through this narrow passage.

There is no advantage in bypassing the gates as traffic must go down to two slow lanes anyway.

Moreover, recent thinking on slowing, calming and regulating traffic entering towns is to change drivers’ perceptions by narrowing roads at the start of urban areas and introducing gates and bollards to constrain and slow drivers. This is precisely what going through the South Gates does. Bypassing them will encourage drivers to maintain the same race-track mentality as they have had in the over-engineered four (or five) lane entry roads round the Hardwick area.

Many towns are abandoning the one-way gyratory systems installed in the 1970s and reintroducing two-way traffic in the town centres. This has been found to create a much better environment for pedestrians, and indeed for drivers. It slows traffic and lubricates a more fluid system.

Lynn still has its one-way system and road engineers should be starting to think how the town can catch up in improving traffic management rebalancing priorities between pedestrians and drivers by encouraging drivers to move more slowly through the built-up area.

The South Gates should be part of this carefully devised strategy to slow and regulate traffic. Bypassing them gives completely the wrong signal.

Remarkably five hundred years after they were built in their present form the South Gates are still used for their original purpose. The best use of a heritage asset is its original one.

Bypassing the gates consign them to being a redundant monument, not part of everyday town life. It will be necessary to put bollards around them and before long litter and rubbish will gather under them.

Then there will be rough sleepers using the shelter and it will be necessary to fence the gates in; before we know it there will be a fenced eyesore.

Corporate Plan policy CS13 highlights the need to remove dark corners where crime can thrive and which end up being frightening and dangerous. An abandoned gatehouse on a traffic island will be just that.

Lastly, I am concerned more generally about Lynn’s publicly owned historic monuments.

The Custom House is closed. I understand there is a proposal to move the library – which will result in another important historic structure being vacated and left empty. You are familiar with the discussions about St George’s Guildhall. The South Gates must not become another abandoned piece of Lynn’s heritage – they need to remain in use as they have done for half a millennium.

Simon Thurley,

Clifton House, Lynn

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