Norwich’s Riverside - a work still in progress

For decades, it was a forgotten part of Norwich, crying out for regeneration. The King Street and Riverside areas had seen better days, with a once thriving industrial area reduced to a landscape of derelict buildings and crumbling factories.

Work to breathe new life into it really got under way with the opening of the Riverside complex at the beginning of 2000, boasting a cinema, nightclub and flats.

Since then, Read's Flour Mill in King Street has been transformed by PJ Livesey into luxury apartments, hundreds of new flats have sprung up at Riverside Heights next to Carrow Road, as well as at nearby Paper Mill Yard.

There's a retail park, complete with big names such as Matalan, Morrisons and Boots; swimmers from around the city head to the Riverside swimming pool, while two new bridges now span the river. The latest proposals announced this month will see, if planning permission is obtained, a further 250 new homes built on two car parks at Carrow Road by Broadland Housing Association. Michael Newey, chief executive of Broadland Housing Association, has said he wants that scheme to help create a community, which is exactly what critics say has been lacking in the regeneration that has happened elsewhere.

Vicky Manthorpe, pictured below left, administrator for civic watchdog The Norwich Society, said: 'One of the key things down there is what sort of facilities are there to support the homes?

'You have got the big stores, but what you haven't got are the little shops that serve a community. That is something which really needs to be looked at. It is in danger of becoming like a North American suburb. We need smaller shops and facilities for the people who live there. If you walk down King Street, it's fantastic at the city end, but the further you walk down, the fewer facilities there are.

'Mixed housing is a very good idea, but not if the facilities which people need are not there.

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'Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure – that's key to it.'

And she said, given the location on the edge of the River Wensum, any future development should focus more on the waterway, something Broadland Housing Association and Wimpey Taylor – which is building 174 more flats as phase two of Riverside Heights near Carrow Road – have both said they intend to do.

PJ Livesey, the developer behind the Read Mills project, is putting the finishing touches to the final apartments, next to the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge – and they believe the scheme, has been a huge success.

Before they began converting the redundant complex of Grade II listed, late 19th Century industrial warehouses and mills in 2005, the site was heavily contaminated and was situated in an area that had been in need of investment.

Gavin Pearce, a negotiator for PJ Livesey, who has been working on the scheme for five years, said: 'When we took the site on and cleared it, we started to bring a bit of life back into the area. There are now people living in the building, close to amenities such as the city centre and the train station. We have made some real headway, with the first two �1m apartments in Norwich. That wasn't something we expected, but shows the quality of what we have done here.

'We are on the final phase of the development and only have availability left in two of the six buildings. We are just finishing off Cannon Wharf, next to the Friendship Bridge, and we are working on the little fisherman's cottage there which has been empty for many years and which we are converting into a two-bedroom cottage.'

At the Riverside complex itself, all has not been such plain sailing since it opened at the start of 2000. From the offset, critics were disappointed that it did not make the most of the river. Despite those dissenting views, for years it was the place to head for an evening out, with bars such as Norwegian Blue, Squares and Lloyds Number One and the Time nightclub regularly packed with drinkers.

But, in 2007, the nightclub, since re-branded as Lava / Ignite, and the Hollywood Bowl beneath it suddenly shut because of structural problems.

In May last year, X-Leisure, the site landlords, launched a �20m lawsuit against the contractors which built it, claiming a breach of contract, claiming the beams beneath the nightclub were flawed.

However, an out-of-court legal settlement resolved the row, and a legal deal was struck to enable both the nightclub and bowling alley to be refurbished.

With footfall reduced, there was a knock-on effect on other business and Norwegian Blue and Squares have both closed, although the opening of The West Coast Grill and Bar in what used to be Old Orleans and the pending reopening of the club and bowling alley has raised hopes of a revival.

A spokesman for X-Leisure, said: 'We are delighted that the Hollywood Bowl unit is to open in time for Christmas and we are working with the nightclub operator for an early 2011 launch.

'Both attractions will not only add a new dynamic to the Riverside Entertainment destination, but will provide quality and affordable entertainment experiences for our visitors.'

The new �2.5m Lady Julian Bridge, which connects Riverside to King Street. feels a bit like a bridge to nowhere at the moment, especially after development stalled on the 400 home St Anne's Wharf site – when owners City Living went into administration.

Steve Morphew, pictured, leader of Norwich City Council, described the regeneration of the area as 'very much a work in progress'. He said: 'The problem for the developers in the area was that, to a degree, they all got a bit blighted by successive recessions.

'When you look at Riverside, I think we would all say we wish it wasn't quite the way it is. It was a bit of a waste to have most of the buildings backing away from the river, but then it was built at a time when there wasn't that much money around. In a sense, we got something which was not ideal, but it still created jobs and prosperity.'

He pointed out the lack of community facilities would be exacerbated by the planned closure of the sports hall at Wensum Lodge.

Mr Morphew added that it remained vital that some land remained available for commercial and employment uses. He said: 'In the old days, homes would be built just around the corner from employment – places such as the shoe factories. Those days and those factories have gone, but what we need to do is ensure that we have still got employment sites available and we don't just build homes on them all.'

Do you think the regeneration has been successful? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Norwich NR1 1RE or email