Restaurants back 'game-changing' traffic ban becoming permanent
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
Restaurateurs say a temporary traffic ban on their street should be made permanent, as councillors put the idea out to consultation.
The bulk of traffic was banned from St Benedicts Street in the Norwich Lanes last summer as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded.
The move has proved popular with hospitality traders in a time when al fresco eating has become increasingly in demand, with owners saying the seats are often full.
For Faycal Mokhbi, of Sahara coffee shop, it has provided a welcome rush of trade after months of closure and restrictions.
"We would love it to be permanent," he said. "We now have got more people sitting outside than we have inside. Even if we don't have any space they wait until someone leaves.
"After the lockdown I felt like we were going to lose our customers, but everyone is back and everyone is happy."
It was a similar sentiment from Richard Bainbridge of Benedicts, who has previously voiced frustration at the practicalities of the ban, which, because of a zebra crossing outside his restaurant, has only seen him gain three outside tables compared to many more at nearby venues.
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But he said he could "see the bigger picture" and that it was a great first step.
"Anything that benefits the whole street is fantastic," he said. "As a concept for the whole street in terms of al fresco dining it's amazing."
He said he would prefer to see the road fully pedestrianised, as at All Saints Green. Instead, it will remain open to traffic requiring access to businesses and homes.
Hannah Springham, at Farmyard, said traditionally people left the city when the weather warmed up, with bookings often being cancelled as people opted to find beer gardens or head to the coast.
But she said the seating had stopped this from happening, which she said was "game-changing".
The ban has, though, been met with concern in some corners - Cookes musical instrument shop manager Mark Hedge said it had hit trade significantly, and that people picking up instruments needed somewhere to park.
Anne Allen, of Raphael Crafts, said it had been lovely to see so many people using the outdoor seating, but said it had been a shame to lose parking spaces.
The St Benedicts Street ban would be one of just a handful of changes, with plans to make St Giles and Upper St Giles Streets more pedestrian-friendly and a £1.8m bridge between Duke Street and St George's Street to fill the missing link in the city centre section of the River Wensum path also set to be put to the public.
Posting on Instagram, the Waffle House, on St Giles Street, said it hoped to see the plans - and the potential of outdoor seating there - go ahead.
Not all the schemes are funded yet, but some of the changes would be paid for from the £32m Transforming Cities fund.