December 9 2013 Latest news:
Dominic Bareham, senior reporter
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The architect behind the Castle Mall shopping complex has spoken of his pride at playing an integral part in a development that revolutionised the thinking behind shopping centres.
Michael Innes, 82, who lives in Thorpe, recalled how there was international interest in the multi-level underground facility within the outer bailey of Norwich Castle.
This resulted in him visiting Moscow to help with an underground centre there after the Russian capital’s mayor had seen Castle Mall shortly after its completion in 1993.
However, he said from conception it took 13 years before the building work started on the £180m centre as a number of hurdles needed to be overcome before planning permission could be secured, particularly building underground and close to the castle.
Mr Innes, who originally comes from the west country, said a knowledge of Norwich was the catalyst for the decision to site Castle Mall underground and particularly his knowledge of the Castle Hotel, which was demolished to make way for the Mall and was on two levels.
He added: “I well remember entering the Castle Hotel at Castle Meadow level and exiting at White Lion Street level.
“I remember giving a talk to the Round Table at the hotel and the recollection of that put the idea into my head.”
He said the “Eureka” moment came when he realised he could link Norwich market with Castle Meadow. The discovery of disused air raid shelters at the site helped to reinforce the argument that development could take place underground.
The cattle market site seemed the ideal place for the shopping centre, he said, because of its existing shopping connections and also because alternative plans to develop a centre at Timber Hill had been rejected over concerns about the impact on listed buildings.
The aim was to create a centre with good connections with the castle, and Mr Innes said there was a constant connection with the surrounding environment within the centre, which was not present within other shopping centres.
He believed the centre had played an important role in reviving Norwich as a retail destination, as the town had fallen to 45 in the list of shopping towns before Castle Mall was built and below East Anglian rivals such as Peterborough, King’s Lynn and Ipswich.
But since then, Norwich had risen to the top 10, in spite of economic downturns.
However, Mr Innes wanted more to be done to use the Mall’s best assets, particularly its connections with the castle and other attractions within the city centre to enable it to thrive in the long term.
He added: “The Mall is a fascinating story and it is a uniquely Norwich story. It is the only shopping mall in the grounds of an ancient monument.
“You are more aware of the outside within Castle Mall.
“It fits in well with its exterior and it is probably the only shopping mall that has been put in the ground like that.”
This week there have been celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the mall’s opening.