Time for wholesale changes to part of Norwich city centre?

Castle Meadow, Norwich

Buses travelling along Castle Meadow in Norwich - Credit: Archant

This is the view of our fine city from the mound of its wonderful castle.

It's an image that we often use to illustrate stories about pollution on Castle Meadow or articles about bus services.

It is also a picture that makes me cringe every time I see it.

Not because it's a bad photo. Quite the opposite in fact. With its blue skies and City Hall, The Forum and St Peter Mancroft in the background, this is a positive and accurate representation of our city centre.

The reason it grates is because to me it is a photo that represents missed opportunity. The chance to further enhance our city centre with something that I think would be attractive to locals and tourists alike.

The sight of buses trundling along Castle Meadow is proof that we really don't make the most of our Norman-era Castle or the area surrounding it.

But maybe as we come out of the pandemic and the future of city centres is reassessed, as offices become less in demand and urban residential growth more likely, there's a chance to put this right.

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I believe, and those with a keen eye will know I've written about this before, the Castle Meadow area has the potential to be one of THE destination spots in Norwich.

Imagine what a draw it would be if, instead of buses and taxis chugging their way around the castle, the area was given over to restaurants, cafes, a few nice bars and maybe even the odd hotel?

Imagine what a selling point it would be to offer 'rooms overlooking the castle' or 'dining in the shadow of Norwich's most historic buildings'. I for one am sold already.

This could be the spot for street events, the growth of Norwich's much-talked about pavement cafe culture and maybe even the odd open air concert.

All the predictions are that, as we come out of the other side of covid-19, our city centres will change at a pace we've never seen before.

I've been part of a project with various organisations tasked with looking at what we want Norwich to look like in 2040 - and many of the visions outlined there have been pushed forward by years - perhaps even decades.

With home working on the increase and office space a less essential commodity, it seems only likely that city centre residential will grow.

With more people comes more need for entertainment, more demand for places to go for leisure, to eat and to meet. Norwich has these in abundance but there will be a need for more.

Throw in the fact that retail is also likely to evolve, as many more increasingly turn to online or independents, and that represents another likely sea change in how our city centres will look. 

Norwich Streets CCastle Meadow with a picture of the Castle Hotel demolished for the Castle Mall

Castle Meadow with a picture of the Castle Hotel, later demolished for the Castle Mall development, dated October 18, 1983 - Credit: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Norwich already has a shortage of city centre hotel space so there's another potential problem solved here as well. We ran a brilliant recent feature on the city's old Castle Hotel - perhaps it's time to bring it back.

What I don't know is the technical traffic problems that moving buses and taxis away from Castle Meadow would create. However, many of us have grown used to doing a bit more walking during lockdown, so perhaps the key is to get the transport to the outskirts of the city centre right - and then you don't need vehicles travelling through its very heart.

It also offers up the potential to solve the long-running issue of how to make the most out of our fantastic castle. I've known many times when friends and family have visited and not even known such a thing exists in our fine city, so poorly have we been in the past at advertising the fact.

We've already seen various other interesting ideas mooted in recent weeks about the city centre and its future. It's time this was thrown into the pot for discussion as well. 

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