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Bid to shake off Norwich's sleepy image

PUBLISHED: 14:00 20 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:52 02 July 2010

A national report hailed The Forum as an example to be held up to the rest of the country in how to breathe life into city centres at night.

A national report hailed The Forum as an example to be held up to the rest of the country in how to breathe life into city centres at night.

Sarah Hall

Norwich could be set to shake off its sleepy image in the early evenings thanks to the City of Culture bid, civic leaders said today, as a new report said there was rich potential to liven up the city centre.

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Norwich could be set to shake off its sleepy image in the early evenings thanks to the City of Culture bid, civic leaders said today, as a new report said there was rich potential to liven up the city centre.

A national report hailed The Forum as an example to be held up to the rest of the country in how to breathe life into city centres at night.

But the same report said Norwich was “unusually quiet” between 5pm and 9pm - a “dead zone” when shops shut and the bars and restaurants get going.

Civic leaders who have long wrestled with that issue today said winning the City of Culture bid could be part of the solution.

Norwich was one of eight towns and cities which came under the microscope in pilot studies of how to improve the flagging fortunes of English towns and cities at night.

Researchers at the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) and the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) hailed The Forum, along with the efforts being made to make Prince of Wales Road safer.

But they said Norwich had key attractions which could be better packaged and promoted to persuade people to stay in the city centre, while shops should look at offering more flexible opening hours so people stay in the city after work.

Paul Davies, who wrote the Better Town Centres At Night report, said the initial pilot project had been drawn up before the recession hit, with the aim of exploring whether shops other than those in Chapelfield might open later.

He said: “Our research showed that the public in many places, both younger and older people wanted more flexible opening hours for shops and in other cities that had proven beneficial.

“When we did an overnight assessment in Norwich we did find it was very quiet between 5pm and 9pm, although it is not the only city where that is the case.

“We also understood there was quite a bit of scepticism among retailers who did not want to open later. There was some opposition to extending opening hours beyond the Thursday night late night opening, but we were looking at exploring the potential.

“We got part way and set out some proposals for what extended hours involved, based on good practice elsewhere. I think people were interested, but then the recession happened.

“I know it's not really comparable, but in Manchester what happened was that Marks and Spencer took the lead, realised it made good business sense and others followed suit.”

But Mr Davies said the city had rich potential and highlighted The Forum as a “national exemplar” for how to make a place thrive in the early evening.

He added the city deserved credit for its work to solve the problems with Prince Of Wales Road. “The things done there have been done as a package, which is exactly the right approach to take.”

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “I think what the report tells us is absolutely spot on. We have been addressing the issues through the City Centre Partnership.

“What we want to do is encourage people to come out into the city centre a bit earlier, or to stay in the city centre after they finish work.

“Winning the City of Culture status would really help with that. Once the world discovers Norwich, the place will be absolutely buzzing from early until late.

“A number of restaurants already have early evening offers to encourage people to come into the city earlier. The more people who are in the city centre, the more viable it comes for businesses to open at more flexible times, which also generates more jobs.”

On the praise for The Forum, Mr Morphew said: “The Forum is a remarkable space and it's amazing how different people use it at different times of the day.

“You see different ages using it, with a whole range of different sorts of people using it into the evening.”

The City Centre Partnership has already been working on an early evening economy project to explore ways to make the city livelier between 5pm and 9pm - and is hoping to secure the Civic Trust's Purple Flag award to recognise the quality on offer in the city in the evenings.

Research has been carried out into the reasons and ages of people who do and do not go into the city centre in the early evening, to figure out what would make people head in.

Stefan Gurney, city centre manager, said: “It is nice to be seen and recognised at a national level for the work which we are doing.

“I think Prince of Wales Road is a great area for the night time economy. It draws in 30,000 people every weekend from as far afield as Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire.

“It's a very good area and I'm not surprised it has been recognised in this report. The Forum too, as that is very vibrant, has the country's most popular library, hosts lot of events and has the café and restaurant.

“Norwich is not that much different to many other cities in being quiet early in the evening, but what we are doing is being ahead of the game and seeing if there is anything we can do to understand why that happens.

“We are investigating it and that's what the early evening economy project is all about.

“Everyone is very keen to get behind the City of Culture bid because that will make a difference. Norwich has such a diversity of attractions, including theatres, museums and the retail offer. Let's do what we can to make sure we get that status.”

Do you think Norwich is too quiet in the early evenings? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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