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Fifty years on, the start of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre, to be re-enacted

PUBLISHED: 08:48 14 July 2017 | UPDATED: 09:07 15 July 2017

London Street pictured before pedestrianisation. Dated: 26th August, 1966. Picture: Archant Library

London Street pictured before pedestrianisation. Dated: 26th August, 1966. Picture: Archant Library

Archant

Alan Partridge would surely have plenty to say about it - next week marks a milestone in the history of the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre.

London street shoppers. Dated: 21st July, 1967. Picture: Archant Library London street shoppers. Dated: 21st July, 1967. Picture: Archant Library

While fans of the fictional broadcaster might snigger at the subject, civic watchdogs say the closure of London Street to traffic on July 17, 1967 brought a revolution in city centre planning.

It was the first shopping street in the UK to be pedestrianised.

Within three years, 20 other streets in the UK had followed suit.

MORE: Pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre has always divided opinion

The Lord Mayor Cecil Sutton and his wife the Lady Mayoress at the London Street pedestrianisation ceremony in 1967. Pic: Archant Library The Lord Mayor Cecil Sutton and his wife the Lady Mayoress at the London Street pedestrianisation ceremony in 1967. Pic: Archant Library

And, on Monday, the 50th anniversary of the street’s pedestrianisation will be celebrated with a special ceremony.

The 11am event will see the current Lord Mayor David Fullman re-enact when one of his predecessors in the civic role tied a white ribbon across the street to signal traffic could no longer use the road.

Civic watchdog The Norwich Society has produced a new booklet about The ‘Foot Street’ revolution which charts how Norwich came to, quite literally, pave the way.

Paul Burrall, the society’s vice chair said: “This was no brave civic initiative but the result of emergency repairs being required to a sewer that caused London Street to be closed to traffic for six weeks at the beginning of 1965.

“Initially, retailers were concerned that their trade would suffer.

“But it soon became apparent that the opposite was the case: one shop manager observed that his customers liked ‘to be able to walk across London Street with nothing more dangerous than a few holes to think about’.

“Soon after the street re-opened to traffic, the traders voted 2:1 in favour of pedestrianisation, a proposal strongly supported by the Norwich Society.”

The city chief planning officer Alfred Wood grasped the opportunity and oversaw an experimental closure which, despite opposition, became permanent in 1967.

On Monday, The Norwich Society will hold a free lecture which will explore what lessons about city centre planning can be learned from London Street and other schemes.

Entitled ‘Streets ahead: where next for our public spaces?’ it will take place at the Norwich University of Arts in Duke Street at 6pm.

Tickets can be booked at www.thenorwichsociety.org.uk/events

Anglia Square in the spotlight

Monday’s recreation of the closure of London Street will look to the past, but The Norwich Society will be using its lecture to mark the anniversary to consider the future.

The civic watchdog’s ‘Streets ahead: Where next for our public spaces?’ will examine the lessons learned and discuss how streets can be improved to benefit people and the economy.

The development of Anglia Square is likely to feature among the talks.

Jonathan Ellis-Miller, associate professor at the Norwich University of the Arts and founded and partner of EllisMiller Architects, is among the speakers and will talk about his work transforming an area in Shoreditch of similar size to Anglia Square.

Other speakers are Matthew Carmona, professor of planning and urban design at the Bartlett School of Planning and David Lock, vice president of the Town and Country Planning Association.

Should Elm Hill be next?

The landmark for the pedestrianisation of London Street comes at a time when even more of Norwich is becoming off-limits to cars.

Gentleman’s Walk was paved over in the 1980s. Recently Westlegate has been transformed.

That multi-million project is part of the Transport for Norwich project, with council bosses saying action had to be taken now to protect the city in the future.

Speaking last October, John Barnard, the then manager of the Transport for Norwich project, said: “We have a duty to protect this historic city and, if we did not do what we are doing, then in 10 to 20 years, you would not be able to get anywhere near the city centre.”

The Norwich Society wants Elm Hill pedestrianised, saying it is “unwelcoming to visitors” because of the narrow footpaths and closeness of traffic.

And the organisation also wants a study into pedestrianising Magdalen Street.

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