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Businesses call for urgent action on Norwich street

PUBLISHED: 16:34 09 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:42 02 July 2010

An artist's impression of what a pedestrianised Westlegate might look like.

An artist's impression of what a pedestrianised Westlegate might look like.

Shaun Lowthorpe

Businesses want urgent action to close a city centre street to traffic amid fears that it could turn in to a ghost town unless action is taken.

Shaun Lowthorpe

Businesses want urgent action to close a city centre street to traffic amid fears that it could turn in to a ghost town unless action is taken.

A row erupted last week after Tory county councillors moved to block plans to close Westlegate to traffic until after the Norwich northern distributor road (NDR) was built.

Councillors fear that without the new road there will be more gridlock because there are no measures in place to cope with the closure and the dispersed traffic.

But Paul Clarke, partner with property agent Bidwells, which leases the shops, fears the delay could be too late for the street, and urged councillors to think again.

Only two out of six stores with Bidwells, Rohan and Britannia, are set to remain in Westlegate at the end of the month after retailers opted not to renew their tenancies and will trade elsewhere.

Mr Clarke said a £1m investment, which could see a hotel and restaurants on the upper floors and bigger shops on the ground floors, has also been put on hold partly because of the downturn, but also because owners Telerealtrillium are not keen to spend money on the shops until the cars are removed.

Mr Clarke said the situation was bleak unless urgent action was taken.

One store had been empty for six years and a recent attempt to rent it out to a charity shop had foundered.

“We have been looking at a hotel or maybe restaurants on the first floor and other retailing, and we would like to make them bigger units on the ground floor,” Mr Clarke said. “We have got problems in the next few months. The only people we are going to have are Rohan and Britannia; the others that we see will be gone in the next two months,” Mr Clarke said. “They aren't renewing their leases. Even with Tesco Express opposite they haven't really got the confidence and they are going elsewhere.

“What we need is some form of action and pretty sharpish,” Mr Clarke added. “We are right in the city centre; it's pretty central and it's in the middle of two main retailers, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, and we have also got Debenhams. We've got to provide them with some sort of link for their customers.”

In November, Mr Clarke wrote a letter on behalf of businesses including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Telerealtrillium, and Enterprise Inns plc, to county council leader Daniel Cox, calling for Westlegate to be closed to traffic.

“There's no technical reason why they can't do this,” Mr Clarke said. “It's not linked to the NDR; there's no link to Westlegate. This is a quick win that everybody can sign up to

“If we just did a quick and easy traffic order that's experimental, you could just see how it would works on bank holidays and at weekends, just to get the ball rolling.

“There's a commercial reason why this needs to happen - if we don't get some commercial reality into this, this street is going to go downhill even faster.”

What do you think? Write to Evening News letters at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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