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Don’t steal the soul of Anglia Square and replace it with boutique furniture and falafel bars

PUBLISHED: 07:00 04 February 2018 | UPDATED: 09:46 04 February 2018

Anglia Square in Norwich, where big changes are being planned. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Anglia Square in Norwich, where big changes are being planned. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

Every day, perhaps four times, I walk through or past Anglia Square as I head to the city from home.

Its backside is an abomination - a utilitarian demonstration of dereliction, covered with graffiti, with broken windows, mould and an attitude of defiant disdain.

Throw in a pot-holed surface car park and an empty multi-storey and you get what a friend of mine calls “Norwich’s Detroit”.

Only a professional contrarian would argue against major surgery.

But we have to be extremely careful about how and when we operate.

I’m not among the ranks of those who regard Anglia Square and Magdalen Street with amused contempt: who are snobbish about the shops, buildings and people.

They should stay in their gentrified areas, sipping Prosecco and browsing the Boden catalogue while Jemimah practises the flute.

What they will never understand is ‘Angular’ Square’s charm.

MORE: Revamp plans for Norwich’s Anglia Square to be lodged within weeks after £12m boost

The shops serve a community and the shopkeepers know their customers.

There is no place in Norwich or Norfolk as diverse and interesting as Anglia Square and Magdalen Street. All ages, all professions, all social strata, all cultures and many languages mix and mingle.

I find the mix intoxicating.

However, armed with £12m from the government, developers are scheming the demolition and rebirth of Anglia Square.

That’s great, but do not steal its soul.

Norwich doesn’t need another Golden Triangle, another shopping mall, or a sanitation (my collective noun) of shops cloned from every town in England.

It does not need an invasion of cravat-wearing snobs stroking their beards and paying £10 for a coffee ground between the butt-cheeks of a llama with special educational needs.

There’s a theory that north Norwich, including the Silver Triangle, is poised to soar - and Anglia Square’s redevelopment will be the catalyst.

As a resident, I think it’s pretty damned fine already. There’s no area with so many superb pubs, while there’s a great range of shops, two GP surgeries and much more.

Nothing would be added for me if house prices rocketed and we got a boutique furniture shop and a falafel bar.

I think Anglia Square needs to be functional, not fabulous.

Get the design right, but ensure there is plenty of affordable housing and reasonable shop rent levels.

I want to keep rooting about in musty charity shops, buying fruit and veg from the greengrocer and chatting to the characters who call it their community.

It’s rough-and-ready, but that is so much better than bland.

My fear is that the need to retain the community feel will be lost in all the arguments about the height of the tower and the colour of the bricks.

The area was the victim of catastrophic planning in the 1950s and 1960s, so there should be enough evidence to prevent a repeat.

But I still fear another triumph for muddled thinking, which would tear the heart from north Norwich.

Planners, feel its soul, don’t steal it.

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