Obituary: The man who changed the face of Norwich

One of the men responsible for the changing face of Norwich, retired landscape architect John Palmer has died peacefully aged 91.

A Norfolk man to his core, he implemented what was then a radical policy to close London Street to traffic in 1969.

He was also responsible for many other schemes in the city including the start of the Riverside Walk, and landscaping the site of the University of East Anglia's Village.

The so-called 'foot street' concept or 'pedestrianisation' was controversial in the mid 1960s, which sparked protests from traders and shoppers alike. However, a combination of councillors, the Norwich Society and then chief planning officer, Alfred Wood, argued for an experimental scheme, which was implemented in July 1967. It was thought to be the first in the country although Southend-on-Sea's main shopping street was 'pedestrian only' in the same year and also claimed to be the first permanent scheme.

Born at Brundall, John Wallace Palmer, started work at City Hall in 1937. He moved to Norwich Corporation's electricity department in Duke Street before joining the RAF in 1940.

He returned to local government nine years later in Norfolk County Council's planning department and qualified as a landscape architect in 1963. 'Landscape architects were a rare breed in those days and I did not know of another in Norfolk,' said Mr Palmer, when he retired in September 1983.

He rejoined Norwich City Council in 1966 shortly after the planning department was set up. His participation in the changing face of the city centre also included designing traffic islands, which evolved out of the one-way system, and working closely with the parks and gardens department.

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Mr Palmer, who was in the front line of moves to make the best use of the character of the city, had to struggle with a limited budget of �17,100 to complete the four-month transformation of London Street from April 1969 with paving and new street furniture. It was to win national and regional recognition after it was officially opened that September. As the work was being carried out, he told the EDP: 'There is a certainly an advantage in being a local chap. You have the feel of the place so much better.'

Later he also designed schemes for Dove Street, Lower Goat Lane, and White Lion Street.

He retired to Shotesham and then for the past 10 years lived at Chedgrave, near Loddon, where he continued as a keen member of Norfolk Caravan Club until about four years ago. He also enjoyed boating on the Broads and especially painting in oils.

His wife, Gladys, died in 2001. He leaves a daughter, Elizabeth, son Richard, six grandchildren and two great-grandsons. He is survived by a younger brother, Peter.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary's Church, Shotesham, on Friday, August 24 at 2pm.

Michael Pollitt

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