How would you like to live behind Norwich’s version of The Berlin Wall? It’s time for Norwich North of the river to shake of its historic inferiority complex
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
Anglia Square improvements and removal of Magdalen Street flyover could mean a big deal for the north of the city.
Most towns and cities in Britain are separated into a traditionally more prosperous 'West End' and, down-the-prevailing-wind, an industrious 'East End.'
In Norwich, the historic divide is between North and South, on either bank of the River Wensum.
Immigrants congregated north of the river, pre and post Norman Conquest, bringing new skills and products to the city.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution factories were established close to the principal mode of freight transport – the river – and the incoming workers from the countryside were housed, not in the congested walled city, but in the undeveloped land to the north of the Wensum.
Post-industrial regeneration of that part of Norwich was helped in the 1950s when The Norwich Society supported the improvements to Magdalen Street, the historic main route onto Fye Bridge and across the Wensum into the city centre, funded by The Civic Trust.
The planners decided that modernisation would resurrect this area and built Anglia Square and its adjacent flyover during the 1960s.
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Modernisation does not always mean improvement however, and those developments were most definitely not supported by The Norwich Society.
The modern buildings are now 50 years old.
Some have lain empty for many years; more have been under-used, several have been demolished, leaving a large empty area crying out for re-development.
Successive regeneration plans were shelved after economic downturns.
The latest one involves the demolition of the redundant Sovereign and Gildengate Houses, and the replacement of Anglia Square – but is it bold enough?
The Norwich Society welcomes initiatives to regenerate the area around Anglia Square, but firmly believes that they should be part of a wider strategy to re-invigorate and re-integrate that part of the City, taking in a much wider area.
This is also a tremendous opportunity to dismantle the unnatural barrier which is the Magdalen Street flyover, freeing land alongside it for productive development to self-fund the demolition costs.
Adjacent vacant land would be used for traffic while the flyover was being demolished, and that project would allow a radical change to the movement of people and vehicles around and through that part of Norwich.
That could include the pedestrianisation of Magdalen Street, which would greatly enhance it as a shopping destination.
The instant reaction will be: 'not more roadworks!'.
It won't happen for a while yet, as the Weston Homes plan is phased over several years, starting to the north of the site, then the west, and finally the demolition of Anglia Square.
It would be short-term disruption for long-term gain; besides, how would you like to live behind Norwich's version of The Berlin Wall?
Those who live north of river don't just have the visual barrier of the flyover, they have the practical difficulty of crossing it, and its approach roads.
The latest Transport for Norwich proposal seeks to address this by filling in the inhospitable underpass and constructing a pedestrian crossing on St Crispin's.
One hopes that the £900,000 is only spent after fully integrating this with whatever transpires from the Anglian Square development.
A radical development would present an opportunity to reconfigure bus routes north of the river, for example to service the ambitious new housing developments around St Mary's Plain.
What makes this latest plan more likely to succeed is that it is driven by house building, and some would like to see this extended. In this internet age, do we really need to replace the empty shops around Anglia Square?
The house-full signs are rarely seen in the city centre multi-screen cinemas – so do we really need to replace the Hollywood cinema? Why not just build some more houses? Does it have to be square?
Anglia Square was an unnatural construction in a city which has successfully retained much of its medieval street pattern.
Why not create some more Magdalen Streets instead, with a variety of shops, cafes, pubs etc accessed from pedestrianised streets which would not be no-go areas after dark.
The local shops and businesses have expended a lot of effort to create a unique character for Magdalen Street with a range of shops selling antiques and collectables, and international food shops and restaurants.
Any development should aim to build on these positive characteristics rather than creating just another identikit shopping mall, which Norwich most certainly does not need.
Something other than an unimaginative like-for-like replacement would dispel that sinking feeling when viewing the artist's impression of glass-and-concrete high-rise buildings surrounding a paved square.
Why should those living in and around these tall buildings be denied the views enjoyed by the rest of us who live elsewhere in Norwich, for example towards the Cathedral, Castle and city centre?
Perhaps it is time for Norwich North of the River to shake off its historic inferiority complex and blossom, in the way that other parts of this Fine City have been allowed to in the past. Residents and traders deserve a sensible, sensitive plan, having endured for decades the consequences of bad planning.
This should be their opportunity.
John Litster, administrator, The Norwich Society