New civic watchdog chairman pledges to protect Norwich listed buildings

The new chairman of the city's civic watchdog has warned that the cathedral area must be protected from the spread of the city's 'raucous nightclub scene'.

Peter Bentley, who was last night elected as chairman of the Norwich Society, which acts as a watchdog on conservation and planning issues, warned that the decline of the area as a business district and the drinking culture around Tombland and Prince of Wales Road were threatening the character of the area.

His views have been backed by the archdeacon of Norwich and the Norwich Cathedral authorities, who have spoken of the need to protect historical parts of the city.

But the manager of Mercy nightclub on Prince of Wales Road believes Mr Bentley has not considered the financial contribution the pubs and clubs make to Norwich's economy.

Mr Bentley said: 'As a founder member of the Norwich Cathedral Quarter group I am acutely aware of the need for the revitalization of this historic and heritage-rich area which has been badly affected by commercial decline and the intrusive spread of the city's raucous nightclub scene.'

Meanwhile, the venerable Jan McFarlane, archdeacon of Norwich, believes Prince of Wales Road has enough clubs and pubs already.

'There are so many nightclubs on Prince of Wales Road that I cannot quite see the need for anymore,' she said.

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'The area does appeal to those who want to go out, but there is also another section of the population who like to go to the historical sites surrounding the Cathedral.

'I think its important that we protect our past as well as making the best of our future.'

Norwich Cathedral also showed its support for the new chairman by underlining the importance of protecting the tranquillity associated with the city's historical areas.

A spokesman for Norwich Cathedral said: 'We welcome the comments by the chairman of the Norwich Society. The Norwich Cathedral and the close is a very peaceful place for both worship, private contemplation, and visits, therefore it is important that its peace and tranquillity is maintained.'

However, Toby Middleton, operations manager for Peris Leisure, which runs Mercy nightclub on Prince of Wales Road, feels that the clubs and bars are a vital part of the city's economy.

He said: 'If Norwich does not want a vibrant night time economy then they should not put the bars and the fast food places all together.

'I think they should be looking to the council and not the people who own the premises down Prince of Wales Road because the majority inherited the premises in their current location.

'The area has really improved in the past five years through financial investment it has received and it is a vibrant and financially important part of Norwich's night time economy.'

Meanwhile, Mr Bentley, who lives in Elm Hill, said he was 'honoured' to take up the position and said he wanted to ensure the many listed buildings around Norwich are not allowed to go to rack and ruin. He also wants to see safer cycling routes.

He said: 'My principle is to work collaboratively with the city council, especially over the future maintenance of the many listed buildings they currently own.

'In addition, I am aware of the many transport problems of the inner city and will continue to press for the development of safer pedestrian and cycling routes.'

Retired Mr Bentley has had a varied career. He worked first in the commercial marine world and later spent 24 years with the Shell Group.

He set up Shell's own Open University, working alongside the parent Open University Business School in Milton Keynes.

He left Shell in 2004, but continues to teach business and leadership subjects to Shell multinational staff online and in 2002 the Open University gave him an award for his contribution to corporate learning.

Since moving from South Norfolk to Norwich in 2006, he has joined the Prince's Trust as a business mentor for young disadvantaged people starting their own businesses.

He is also a director and trustee of the Norwich Preservation Trust and a founder member of the Norwich Cathedral Quarter – a group aimed at boosting the economy and the profile of the area surrounding the cathedral.

Mr Bentley is chairman of the Friends of Elm Hill group, having been persistent in his defence of the historic street.

He succeeds outgoing chairman Derek Burke, former vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia.

Vicky Manthorpe, the secretary to the trustees, said 'Professor Burke has been a marvellous advocate and ambassador for the society and has brought an assured approach to the administration which has been extremely helpful.'

Do you think enough is done to protect Norwich's heritage? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email