Pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre’s London Street is re-enacted 50 years on
Fifty years after Norwich quite literally paved the way by creating the first pedestrianised shopping street in the UK, the pioneering move has been re-enacted.
On July 17, 1967, London Street was closed off to traffic, when Lord Mayor Cecil Sutton tied a ribbon across the street to symbolise traffic could no longer use the road.
And today, the current Lord Mayor David Fullman, together with Norwich city councillor Mike Stonard, did the same to mark the 50th anniversary of the closure.
The event also saw the unveiling of a new blue plaque, which will be installed on the wall outside Boots, detailing the significance of the street.
And some of the shops along London Street displayed posters showing the ways the thoroughfare has changed over the decades.
The anniversary project was together in partnership between Norwich City Council, Norwich Business Improvement District and The Norwich Society.
Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, said: “It’s wonderful to be marking 50 years since we made London Street the first shopping street in the UK to be pedestrianised.
“It shows how a bold decision brought an area of the city to life and began an approach to planning that has made Norwich the thriving, vibrant and people-focused city it is today.
“Having just celebrated completion of the Transport for Norwich project to pedestrianise Westlegate, we can look back on success stories such as London Street and see the benefits this sort of change brings to the local economy.”
Within three years of London Street’s pedestrianisation, 20 other streets in the UK had followed suit in becoming pedestrianised.
But it was only because of a sewer collapse and the vision of the city’s chief planning officer Alfred Wood that it was paved over to begin with.
The street was initially shut because emergency repairs were needed following the sewer collapse. It had to be closed to traffic for six weeks at the beginning of 1965.
Shop owners initially feared their trade would suffer, but the opposite happened - with customers telling traders they liked the road being closed to cars.
Soon after it re-opened the traders voted 2:1 in favour of pedestrianisation, with the support of civic watchdog The Norwich Society.
The city chief planning officer Alfred Wood grasped the opportunity and oversaw an experimental closure which, despite opposition, became permanent in 1967.
Paul Burall, from The Norwich Society, said: “In the early 1960s, there were many proposals to pedestrianise shopping streets but these had all failed in the face of opposition from shopkeepers.
“London Street was a breakthrough: its implementation was supported by the local retailers and the Norwich Society and clearly demonstrated that trade actually increased following pedestrianisation.”
Tonight, The Norwich Society will hold a free lecture which will explore what lessons about city centre planning can be learned from London Street and other schemes.
Entitled ‘Streets ahead: where next for our public spaces?’ it will take place at the Norwich University of Arts in Duke Street at 6pm.
Other city streets have since been pedestrianised following the success of London Street, including Gentleman’s Walk in the 1980s and, most recently, Westlegate.
Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District, said: “Norwich is a creative, innovative and forward thinking city as demonstrated by the pedestrianisation of London Street in 1967 – the first in Britain.
“During the past 50 years, Norwich has continued to modernise, with the latest changes mirroring London Street with the pedestrianisation of the Westlegate area.
“Norwich is a city which embraces transformation and its fantastic that we can celebrate the progressive nature of the city centre with the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first pedestrian street.”
But one dissenting voice over the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre remains fictional broadcaster Alan Partridge.
In an episode of the BBC comedy, he said: “I’ll be honest, I’m dead against it. People forget that traders need access to Dixons.”