Time for Norwich City to expand Carrow Road and for city council to consider a concert hall
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Sitting enjoying a wonderful performance of Verdi's Requiem by the Norwich Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir recently, the inadequacies of St Andrew's Hall soon became apparent.
Quiet sections were spoiled by the intrusive wind rattling around the roof: one member of the orchestra told me that it had been so bad during the afternoon rehearsal that she thought that a low-flying aircraft was buzzing the hall.
Traffic noise can also intrude on concerts at St Andrew's.
To make matters worse, the Hall has a grossly insufficient bar area and no proper backstage facilities for performers.
It was therefore a welcome sight to see that both the leader of the city council and the Lord Mayor were present at the concert and experienced at first hand the need for Norwich to at least consider building a purpose-built concert hall to complete the city's cultural offering.
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Not only would this meet the needs of local people but it could help counter the prejudices about the city that cause such difficulties for businesses trying to recruit essential specialist staff from elsewhere.
A new hall should also serve as a conference centre and, ideally, become a full-scale arts centre complete with a modern gallery, educational facilities and so on.
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Of course, this would be a major undertaking and require an investment of tens of millions of pounds. But this is not impossible. Bristol is currently upgrading its Victorian Colston Hall at a cost of around £50m and has already raised 85pc of its target; it expects that the investment will generate around £250m for the local economy.
Evidence would suggest that there is a demand for such a venue: the Norwich Phil's concert was sold out and the recent addition of classical music concerts to the Theatre Royal's programme also indicates a demand.
And, of course, large audiences have also been attracted for concerts of other genres: the Take That concert at Carrow Road at the end of May is already almost sold out.
As a first step, perhaps the City Council and the New Anglia LEP might consider a feasibility study? The Bristol project began with consultations with audiences and interest groups in the city, an online public survey to gather more feedback on how people engaged with the old hall, and a number of community consultation days.
And in this context the idea that that has already been floated for Castle Mall – if it ever fails as a shopping centre – to be converted into a venue for concerts and conferences should not be forgotten.
Nowhere could be more central and it already has the necessary parking and eating facilities, as well as a cinema that would fit in with the overall arts centre vision.
At the other end of the entertainment scale, I wonder if, with the Canaries on the verge of promotion (fingers crossed), it is time for the capacity of Carrow Road to be increased.
Throughout this nail-biting season I have been sitting in near-capacity crowds occasionally looking at the City stand and imagining it rebuilt on the scale of the Barclay, including the lounges that attract high-paying supporters (season tickets for seats in these are around £800, compared with £500 for ordinary adult season ticket).
Again, the cost would clearly be substantial and, like probably every other fan, I would not want this to be at the expense of building a team that can keep us in the Premier League. In the past, Norwich City has considered expanding the ground but decided that this would only be feasible after the club has played at least three seasons in the top division.
This seems to be a chicken-and-egg argument. After all, once built, a new stand should bring in increased income.
So it might be worth investigating how such an investment could be funded. The options include bonds issued to supporters (Stevenage has currently gone down this route to fund its new stand); the advance sale of season tickets for five or even more years; and business sponsorship.
While these are unlikely to meet the full multi-million pound cost, it could help the make it worthwhile for the club to invest in such a project in the expectation that, in the long term, it would make commercial sense.
Norwich – both the football club and the city as a whole – cannot stand still in a world where others are investing to make them more attractive and successful.
We need vision. But visions should only be implemented if they have been properly explored and evaluated. Perhaps that should be the next step for both the possible expansion of the capacity of Carrow Road and for a new concert hall/arts centre/conference hall.
No doubt others will have entirely different ideas about what Norwich needs for the future. Let's start a discussion.
• Paul Burall is vice chair of the Norwich Society