Special report: What does the future hold for Norwich’s Anglia Square?

When Norwich City Council unveiled its action plan for the north of the city in 2008, Anglia Square was at its heart.

The proposed redevelopment would see the pedestrianised centre combine high quality shopping with accommodation, supported by businesses in the regenerated surrounding streets.

But when the credit crunch hit in 2009, developers had to scale back the plans before putting them on ice until market conditions had recovered – where they remain to this day.

That has left Anglia Square in the shade while areas around St Augustine's Street have been transformed, and made the centre 'an irrelevance', says a residents' group.

But retail bosses say demand for units at Anglia Square is higher than ever, and that shops are weathering the conditions.

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So what lies in store for the 1960s complex, and can it be part of a regenerated north city area in its current form?

Stuart McLaren, secretary of the St Augustine's Community Together Residents' Association, said residents were now focusing their energies elsewhere, feeling that developers Centenary Ashcroft have 'abandoned' the stalled project.

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'Anglia Square has dropped off the radar now that St Augustine's is regenerating on its own,' he said. 'It's not on people's minds because it has dragged on for so many years that everyone's just got fed up with it.

'Since the one-way system was completed we seem to have got more shops moving into the area around St Augustine's, and we've rather forgotten about the square. It's become an irrelevance in a way.'

A mini-renaissance in St Augustine's Street has been gathering momentum in recent months, with businesses being attracted to the area and empty units filling up, yet offices at Anglia Square remain empty.

And two Norwich eyesores have had their futures resolved this year, with Westlegate House to be converted to flats and the Mecca Bingo hall on All Saints Green to be demolished.

Centenary Ashcroft secured permission for the multi-million pound regeneration of Anglia Square in 2008. In March of this year, director Ranald Phillips said the company would like to be on site later in the year, dependent upon market conditions – a message repeated last week.

Norwich South MP Simon Wright agreed that the delays had been 'incredibly frustrating' and has pledged to obtain an update from developers for residents.

'Everyone just wants to see something happen now,' he said. 'It's been several years that the proposals have come and gone, and the applications have been brought.

'Anglia Square is such an important part of that side of the city, and the St Augustine's and Magdalen Street area could get a real boost once the redevelopment has proceeded.'

Mr McLaren said despite its uncertain future, Anglia Square retained 'a certain characterful charm', and centre manager Roy Ruggles said business was still strong. 'Since Christmas we have let eight units – we're now full up and I've had to be turning shops away,' he said.

'Anglia Square is thriving in the community and in the recession.'

The new arrivals include a carpet shop, a wedding shop and a gaming shop, said Mr Ruggles, overturning the popular perception of Anglia Square reputation as a centre for charity shops and discount retailers.

'We are still conscious that as a shopping centre we still have to trade,' he said. 'We have to make it work for the people who are here. It will be nice when the redevelopment comes, but my priority is keeping the customers we have.'

Mr Ruggles said he saw Anglia Square in its current state as a significant part of the regeneration of the area, especially since the one-way system was introduced.

Trevor Wicks, owner of the Hollywood Cinema at Anglia Square, agreed with Mr Ruggles that sitting back and waiting for the new Anglia Square was not an option. 'We have to be realistic: nothing is being done in the current climate,' he said.

'I don't think the uncertainty makes a difference. We all get up in the morning and go to bed at night and just carry on.'

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