GPs and a car ban: Future of Norwich's high street according to experts


Norwich, viewed from Britannia Café

What should Norwich's retail offering look like in the future? - Credit: citizenside.com

With droves of empty shops in the centre of Norwich gathering dust the city has been presented with an opportunity to bring in the business it really wants to see.  

But to future-proof the Fine City's retail offering planners and the public alike will have to think outside the box, retail experts have warned.  

Norwich is unique in that it doesn't have an official high street or main street, Professor Joshua Bamfield of the Centre for Retail Research recently pointed out.  

And because of this Norwich should push the boundaries of diversifying retail hubs, experts have said.  

Joe Faulkner. Picture: KPMG

Joe Faulkner - Credit: KPMG

Joe Faulkner, head of KPMG’s Norwich office, said: "With the dawn of hybrid working and people travelling less for work or to shop, town and city centres will need alternative offerings to fill vacant space and to attract people to the area. 

"Shoppers tend to be attracted to a cluster of shops rather than make a visit to a single standalone outlet, so our shopping hubs need to evolve to attract shoppers’ attention. 

The Norwich Lanes Summer Fair, 2022

Punters at Norwich Lanes Fayre 2022 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

"Norwich has a strong cultural history and already has a diverse retail offering. 

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"There is an opportunity to encourage more innovators into the centre and continue to build the city’s offering into a unique blend of creative, social, recreational, retail and other activities. 

"Successful shopping centres of the future will need to become multi-purpose locations, combining retail and hospitality amenities with residential, education, healthcare, cultural, technology, community and more." 

Valentine Quinio of Centre for Cities

Valentine Quinio of Centre for Cities - Credit: Centre for Cities

Valentine Quinio of think tank Centre for Cities added that although the idea of the high street is a very British concept - and something perhaps Norwich doesn't have on paper - cities should be looking not at “wants” but at “needs”.  

As such she suggested that pedestrianisation and meeting the immediate requirements of citizens should be a priority. 

"Getting GPs on the high street is important, especially as we have a flurry of people moving to the city centre to live," she explained. 

"Having a walkable distance between all these kinds of amenities is also a really good thing. 

"We need to find a way to repurpose vacant units to make sure the high street remains vibrant. One way of doing that is through cultural facilities and public services, like nurseries and GPs.  

Norwich Market and Norwich Castle Museum. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Norwich Market and Norwich Castle Museum - Credit: Antony Kelly

"The latest data we have shows that Norwich is back to where it was before Covid. It shows people are really keen to use their city centre. 

"It's a testament to the diversity of amenities that Norwich has on offer. 

"Bouncing back is one thing but it is bouncing back to a relatively strong position.” 

However she warned: “That said, there's no room for complacency. There are always challenges that need to be addressed. 

"For the future the key word has to be flexibility. We know from looking at spending and consumption patterns that hospitality is doing much better than retail. 

"Moving away from the likes of retail towards the experience economy will be crucial for the future. 

"A future-proof high street will require finding the right balance between commercial office space and residential will be key. 

"There's a need for more flexibility. It's all about balance." 

A spokesman for Norwich Lanes said it would be great to see more independents taking over more traditional high street areas in Norwich. 

He said: "There appears to be a myth in the UK that without massive chain stores there would be no jobs but small independent businesses actually employ more people in the private sector than anybody else. 

"Independents are far better for the local economy. For every £1 spent with an independent business between 50p to 70p returns back into the local economy whereas chain stores return just 5p in the pound.  

"Tourists don’t come here in search of a homogenised high street - they come here for the history, the architecture and the independents that make this city so very unique." 

What the public want in their city centre

Visiting Norwich for the day, 87-year-old Mary Krehan said that her hometown of Ipswich's high street is fairing far worse than Norwich.

"Because of Debenhams going, there are a lot of cafes and shops that have gone," the retiree said.

Mary Krehan, 87, said that lots of cafes and smaller shops have disappeared after the collapse of department stores

Mary Krehan, 87, said that lots of cafes and smaller shops have disappeared after the collapse of department stores - Credit: Sophie Wyatt

Project manager Clare Elkins, 54, from Taverham added: "There could be food banks or filled with voluntary organisations."

Clare Elkins wanted food banks and voluntary organisations to take over empty city centre units

Clare Elkins wanted food banks and voluntary organisations to take over empty city centre units - Credit: Sophie Wyatt

Supermarket worker Matthew Elsby, 19, said: "I would probably like to see small boutique kind of shops selling different things."

Matthew Elsby and Greg Frazer said more boutique businesses would be good for Norwich

Matthew Elsby (left) and Greg Frazer (right) said more boutique businesses would be good for Norwich - but they don't know how maintainable that would be - Credit: Sophie Wyatt

Greg Frazer, also 19, added: "I don't know if that is really realistic because they are usually too expensive and they won't get enough customers to keep the business going."

Graduate Erin McGarry, 23, said there is a lot of nightlife for teenagers but there is not much for kids.

"Better crazy golf courses would be nice as most of the ones in Norwich at the moment are based around people getting drunk," she said.

"The empty units look bad and dries out other business."