Graphic: How Norwich city centre is set to get a major makeover
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
The mix of shops, restaurants, homes and cafés which Norwich needs to continue to be a thriving and attractive place to visit and buy goods has been set out by Norwich City Council.
Businesses are being urged to provide feedback about its new guidance for planners, which for the first time sets out its vision for the number of shops on its high streets, as well as other businesses such as banks, building societies, restaurants and cafés.
The blueprint could see the green light given to plans for flats above shops in places such as The Lanes and Magdalen Street, and will also urge planners to discourage high concentrations or continuous run of betting shops and amusement centres.
The document sets out the current number of shops in each of the main areas of the city. There are currently more shops in the areas than the proposed minimum in the planning guidance.
• Empty units: 8.5%
• Empty floorspace: 1.9%
•Keep 80% of the ground floor level buildings as shops, and particularly seek to keep larger shops in the area.
• Allow vacant units, and unused upper floors, to be used for cafes, restaurants and bars to help the night time economy.
• Upper floors of buildings could potentially be used for homes.
• Discourage the use in ground floor shops for betting shops and amusement centres.
• Empty units: 18.9%
• Empty floorspace: 14.1%
• Seek to maintain a minimum of 80% of shops on level one and two of the shopping centre, but allow other use if it can help to address long term vacancy problems, or promote vitality.
• The council also wants to support wider diversification of uses on other levels and more efficient and innovative use of public space.
• It also wants to encourage the Timberhill height – Level 4 – to be used more for early evening economy activities, such as restaurants and cafés.
Your views on the proposal
• Diane Catchpole from Old Catton, 60, supports the move to help diversify the city.
“I think there should be restrictions,” she says. “We’ve lost a lot of shoe shops, and now there’s so many mobile phone places instead. St Stephens looks awful, it’s full of supermarkets. There should be a limit on pound shops too. I’d like to see more fashion.”
• Becky Kingsley, 34, believes the atmosphere of the city could be improved.
“The evenings are too quiet in Norwich and limited to one area with loud pubs and clubs. More outdoor cafes and nice wine bars with a holiday feel would be better.”
• Richard Lang from Thorpe St. Andrew, 31, is less sure, and urges more collaborative thinking across different sectors.
“There’s no quick fix,” he said. “White papers are not that effective. Some premises are left empty, so space should be used creatively, with pop-up shops or kids enterprises. There should be more consultation and surveys to find out what people want.”
MAGDALEN STREET/ANGLIA SQUARE
• Empty units: 10.8%
• Empty floorspace: 8.9%
• The council will seek to maintain 60% of the areas as shops and will continue to support independent shops and cafes and bars to encourage the evening economy.
• While Anglia Square is being built it will resist changes to homes, but ultimately it will consider proposals to change the use of ground floor shops to homes on a case by case basis.
• Empty units: 12.3%
• Empty floorspace: 3.9%
• The vacancy rate is relatively low as a proportion of floorspace, but higher when measured as a proportion of shop units, suggesting that it is harder to fill the smaller units.
• The council plans to maintain 80% of the units as shops, but it will allow diversification if it helps address long term vacancies.
• It will also support any measures to improve the layout of the shopping centre, to make it more attractive or easier to use for shoppers.
BACK OF THE INNS
• Empty units: 5.6%
• Empty floorspace: 4.4%
• The council plans to ensure there is a minimum of 65% of shops, with an aim of attracting larger shops. It will allow more diversification in smaller shops.
• It will give particular support to businesses which will help expand the evening economy, such as cafes and restaurants, as long as it will not restrict access for service vehicles. It will support the use of buildings which increase footfall at night and discourage betting shops and amusement centres.
THE LANES (EAST)
• Empty units: 5.2%
• Empty floorspace: 1%
• The council will seek to maintain a minimum of 70% of shops and continue to support proposals for speciality and independent retailers.
• It will support the expansion of cafes and restaurants, particularly on London Street and Bedford Street and discourage continuous runs of betting shops and amusement centres. It will also support the use of upper floors for businesses, like the Norwich Gym in the former Habitat shop.
ST STEPHENS STREET
• Empty shops: 15.6%
• Empty floorspace: 2.1%
• Maintain a minimum of 80% shops. The council will also support the refurbishment and reconfiguration of large shops throughout the area and discourage continuous runs of betting shops and amusement centres.
• It will support, where feasible and viable, the redevelopment of the 1960s shops on the east of St Stephens Street and on Westlegate Street, encouraging cafes and restaurants and making space for outside seating when traffic is cut.
ST BENEDICTS STREET
• Empty units: 5.5%
• Empty floorspace: 4.8%
• The council wants to maintain a minimum of 60% of shops. It will continue to support proposals for independent shops and the expansion of businesses which promote the evening economy.
• It will discourage runs of betting shops and amusement centres and support the use of floors above shops and restaurants for flats.
Proposals for new development and a change of use at the Cathedral Retail Park will also be considered.
Adrian Fennell, partner at chartered surveyors Roche, welcomed the initiative which he said showed the council was taking a “pro-active stance” in ensuring Norwich continues to remain a vibrant city centre that is evolving with the shift in consumer shopping and leisure habits.
“The specific focus on retail areas will ensure that the plan remains relevant and can be individually adapted in the future,” he said.
But he warned that the council would need to carefully consider the implications of rules which mean it is currently possible to convert a restaurant into a betting shop without control.
“Furthermore, certain non-retail uses will still need to be very carefully controlled, such as late night bars as this could detract from residential occupation within the city centre that is also an essential element for encouraging and retaining vibrancy,” he warned.
“I would also like to see all the landlord’s views being canvassed as they play an essential part to the plan, particularly as their consent will be required before any tenant can apply for a change of use,” he added.
The new plan will be more flexible than previous, less wide-reaching plans, and will have less legal constraints.
Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District, said that it was broadly supportive of the document because it would see the project reviewed on a yearly basis.
“It allows the flexibility should there be a change of direction for the city centre. They are not set in stone,” he said.
He added: “There is an opportunity to move towards a high street experience that is not solely retail. They have given that flexibility to look at restaurants and cafes to add to the vibrancy and usage, while also considering the mixture of residential use.”
Mike Stonard, cabinet member for environment, development and transport, said: “Our integrated, proactive approach to planning for shopping has been crucial in delivering the range and quality of shopping experience that exists in Norwich today.
“This guidance and consultation process is about working with local businesses and retail associations to secure Norwich’s continuing vitality as a thriving retail and visitor destination.”
Under planning rules any decision the council makes to approve or refuse planning applications – including whether or not to accept the change of use of a shop – must be made in line with the local plan, unless there are exceptional reasons.
The new document is a part of the latest local plan, which has been drawn up over four years. The city council has collected evidence and also looked at development needs and opportunities in the city.
It has consulted and negotiated with a wide range of local people, developers, landowners, business representatives and other stakeholders on draft policies, and has made changes in response to consultation feedback and shifts in national policy.
It submitted the final plan to government for independent assessment last year.