Businesswoman who was forced to pull out of the city centre enjoys her 'best year' in the suburbs
PUBLISHED: 10:57 04 December 2018 | UPDATED: 11:43 04 December 2018
An estate agent who had to pull out of a city centre office said she has enjoyed her 'best year ever' at premises in the suburbs - as the debate continues over whether businesses are being driven out of Norwich.
Norwich businesswoman Yvonne Astley who had to pull out of a city centre office said she has enjoyed her ‘best year ever’ at premises in the suburbs.
It comes as commercial property partners Guy Gowing from Arnolds Keys and Nick Dunn from Brown & Co warned businesses may be driven out of the city centre - citing a rent trap and traffic congestion as reasons.
The debate came after Hardwick House, the once grand building on Agricultural Hall Plain, was boarded up and put up for rent.
Both Mr Gowing and Mr Dunn said commercial rents achievable on properties in the city were often too low to attract investment from developers. Yet tenants say rates and rents are too high.
Meanwhile the city council has defended the current road and lane closures as part of the Transport for Norwich initiative, reassuring motorists that the end result will actually free up traffic.
Yvonne Astley took on a modest corner office in a period building on Rose Lane, a busy road going into the city centre, to launch her independent business. But after being there for two years, she chose to relocate to 310, Constitution Hill in the suburbs of Sprowston/Catton where she says her business Astley & Co has just had its ‘best year ever.’
She said the city centre office had no parking and she took the decision to pull out even though she had to continue paying the £18,000 annual rent, which she is still paying now, until her contract finally expires next March.
She said: “I honestly thought how can I possibly go wrong when I took on the city centre office, with 1000 cars going past my front door every day? It was a bad mistake but I just thought being in the city centre would be enough to justify the rent and the business rates. I tried to let it for the owners but have ended up paying the rent on that office as well as this one.
“The council needs to understand that the high street is dying and soon there will be no businesses left in the centre, especially small independent ones like me.”
Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), said more innovative ways needed to be found to see empty buildings like Hardwick House put to better use. This building is actually in receivership.
“It is going to get worse with the de-regulation which allows offices to be turned into residential without planning permission. We are losing so much of our office space to residential and we need more power at local level to stop this.
“But we are seeing more innovative companies with smaller numbers of employees offering flexible working hours rather than massive businesses, employing hundreds of people who all need to get in and out of the city at the same time. There are lots of businesses who are moving back into the city. The high street isn’t going to be full of big stores like BHS and House of Fraser any more, there are going to be smaller footprint stores which want to engage more with their clients and this is mirroring what is happening in the business community.”
Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, agreed that the changes to the permitted development rights were not helpful.
“We at the city council have made our position clear, it depletes office stock and takes away our right to determine (planning permission.) With the plan of the city we try to ensure business and residential areas which have the necessary facilities and amenities and this mix and matching means that coherent plan is lost so we are opposed to the policy.
“But we need to encourage people to visit Norwich for the experience, not just a quick shopping trip so we need it to be pollution free with wide pedestrianised streets. We do know the pinch points like Grapes Hill and Chapelfield Road.
“We are nearly at the end of the road changes and with the closing up of King Street, we can take out a set of traffic lights and create a clear run for drivers. We can’t be complacent, we do need to make sure we aren’t clogging up the city centre and that what people are fearful of, regarding businesses, doesn’t happen.