‘It could kill businesses’: Bosses divided over proposed city road closures
- Credit: Simon Parkin
Business owners are divided following suggestions several city centre roads could be shut to traffic.
Norwich City Council leader Alan Waters has unveiled a proposal to temporarily pedestrianise streets in Norwich when non-essential stores start to re-open on June 15.
The road closures were suggested as Magdalen Street, Upper St Giles Street, St Benedicts Street and Exchange Street during a virtual meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee, to help people keep to social distancing.
Some bar, shop and restaurant bosses, however, believed the move could spell disaster for trade - while others said it would be a welcome boost to the area.
For Pat Wilshire, who runs Looses Emporium on Magdalen Street and plans to reopen next week, the proposed closure of the street would “kill” businesses.
“You might as well be in a field,“ he said. “It will make the situation 10 times worse as people will be driven away from the area rather than encouraged to come.
“This is because it will stop the buses coming down the street and a lot of my customers rely on buses or cars to shop. If the road is closed, they will have no means to get to the city and shop.”
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Steve Michael, who works at Sahara Cafe and Patisserie on Magdalen Street, slammed the plans and said they were of no help at all.
He said: “On the three or four occasions we have had road works and the roads have been closed the street has been dead. People will just stop coming to the street if they can’t access it.”
A drop in customers was not a concern for Stephen George, who has run The King’s Head on Magdalen Street for seven years.
Outdoor space would mean the pub could serve more than the 40 customers they expected with social-distancing measures in place and it could mean they serve 150 customers - the average for a busy night before coronavirus.
Mr George said: “We don’t have a beer garden so the extra space and therefore the increase in turnover would be brilliant.
“It could be like Oktoberfest or a big street party although people would obviously have to behave responsibly and perhaps there should be a cut-off time so there isn’t noise disturbance for homeowners.”
On St Benedicts Street Russell Evans, who runs The Ten Bells, welcomed the closures and also said it could bring a European atmosphere with outdoor dining and drinking.
It comes as pubs and restaurants on the street launched a campaign for its pedestrianisation from July to September.
Mr Evans said: “I think it is an amazing idea and now the council appears to be reacting to the initiative.
“After lockdown I think people will want experiences and social interaction and to not just sit in a pub. Having a street closed off with drinking and eating outside will add value and be more experiential. Plus it will help our businesses survive.”
Rosie Mills-Smith works in marketing and communications for Bread Source, which has a site on Upper St Giles Street. She praised the proposal as long as it restored confidence among shoppers.
She said: “The council needs to do everything to support local independent businesses and anything that can be done to protect the public and give them a greater confidence to shop feels like a positive step forward.”
But Ms Mills-Smith raised concerns over accessibility to the street.
She said: “The question is how will those who don’t have mobility make it to the area without potentially the ability to park. It needs to be taken into consideration so no one is excluded.”
Roger Hickman, the owner of Roger Hickman’s restaurant on Upper St Giles Street, said while the closure to traffic was welcome the restaurant would be unlikely to place tables outside.
He said: “Making the street traffic free would create a space which would be attractive for people to come to, and help build confidence for people returning to the city, and help maintain social distancing. It is good that the city council is thinking about how to make the city a more welcoming place after the crisis. It will be vital for the prosperity of every city centre business that we attract people back quickly.”
The closure of Exchange Street has no downsides for Laz Damon who owns The Wallow on the street. He said: “We’re in support of the move and it would be beneficial for us because we don’t have an outside garden.”