Calls to breathe new life into Norwich’s River Wensum

The potential of the River Wensum as a major draw for tourists and business is being wasted, according to a report which calls for new life to be breathed into the waterway.

Civic watchdogs and heritage chiefs have issued a rallying cry for more to be done to re-establish the river as a centrepiece of which Norwich can be proud.

They say the river is a hidden gem which, with the right approach, could be turned into a focus for tourism, leisure and business – similar to how equivalent rivers are used in cities such as Cambridge, York and Bath.

The report calls for the creation of an action plan to kick-start more use of the river, with developers urged to create a marina, suggestions put forward for a major river festival, the possibility of a history boat and promotion of cafes and restaurants along the banks of the Wensum.

The discussion paper has been put together by the Wensum River Parkway Partnership, which is a joint project of the Norwich Society, Norwich HEART (Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust) and Norwich City Council.

Alec Hartley, chairman of the partnership and a member of the Norwich Society, said: 'It's very much a discussion paper because we realise there is not a lot of money out there at the moment, but we felt it was important to get a discussion on the river going.

'One of the points is that the Wensum has such obvious potential as part of the Broads tourism offer, but it is not linked up with it.'

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He bemoaned the lack of boats which use the river and called for an action plan to bring small craft back to the Wensum, for tourism and leisure, as well as to get people to and from residential areas such as the proposed Deal Ground development at Whitlingham.

He said councils, businesses, the Broads Authority and developers needed to work together to create the conditions for that.

He said: 'The eventual overall result should be a vibrant, thriving and economically self-sustaining waterfront and waterborne culture which adds to and draws strength from Norwich's huge international drawing-power as a centre for good living, leisure, heritage and tourism.'

Developers at river bank sites, he said, should be required by the council to provide access to the river such as boat inlets, steps and pontoons.

And he suggested a proper marina could be created when St Anne's Wharf is finally developed, with the cost offset by the top prices which properties on the marina would command.

The paper also suggests a Waterfront Alliance, where pubs, clubs, restaurants and leisure attractions which face the river, but which make little use of it, could generate custom from boat users.

He said: 'The most basic thing about a river is that people like to look at it, yet we don't have restaurants and cafes which make the most of that.

'Moving water is one of the most fascinating things and, until recently, that has been pretty much ignored in the city.'

The paper suggests pubs and clubs offering promotions to boat users or financing a free water bus stopping off at participating attractions.

It also proposes a boat where guides could explain Norwich's history by boat, which could also be used as a classroom for nature study lessons, while suggestion is also made for a river festival.

Mike Loveday, chief executive of HEART, said: 'Alec's paper is very interesting and we hope it will get a bit of a discussion going about the future role of the river.

'In the new year we are planning to make a bid for European Union funding to get money to put into river and maritime heritage projects. 'We are trying to link up with Caen in Normandy, which is where the stone for Norwich Cathedral came from, and with King's Lynn, which was a major port.'

As reported in the Evening News, HEART recently applied, on behalf of the partnership, for planning permission to complete the 'missing link' on the Riverside Walk.

That would see a walkway over the river near Norwich Playhouse connecting Duke Street to St George's Street, filling in a long-standing gap in the popular route.

Mr Loveday said: 'If it wasn't for the river, Norwich wouldn't be here, because that was the reason a settlement was founded here and what made us so important.

'There's so much heritage connected to the river and much more which could be made of it. Instead of seeing it as the back door to the city, it should be seen as the front door.

'It could really be a different offer for the city, a thing which people come to the city for. We haven't got much going on there at the moment, but we could have.'

Of the proposal for a history boat detailing the city's heritage, Bruce Hanson, project manager with responsibility for tourism at the Broads Authority, said: 'It's a fantastic idea. Norwich is probably the only city in Britain and Europe which has a national park flowing through the middle of it. 'I have always thought it sad that Norwich turns its back on the river when it could do so much more by looking towards it.

'I have just come from walking along the river and it always strikes me as such a shame that there are not cafes and restaurants which face on to the river rather than away from it.'

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said it made sense to get a plan in place for when money is available, despite the difficult economic climate at the moment.

She said: 'The River Wensum is a tremendous resource in the middle of the city and to come up with a plan for what we could do with it is a good idea.

'We are always happy for people to work collaboratively to improve the city even more for the people who live here and those who come to visit us.'

The paper has already been presented to the Broads Local Access Forum and the Norwich City Centre Partnership, which works with businesses.

Mr Hartley said he hoped a conference could be organised in 2012 with all interested parties.

• What do you think needs to be done to get the most out of the River Wensum? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email