Transport the key to a thriving Norwich

Campaigners today called for an overhaul of Norwich's parking regime to entice more shoppers into our city centre as car parks are stretched to their limits.

Transport is seen as vital to keeping trade thriving, but according to MPs, councillors and businesses the centre of Norwich is suffering at the hands of cheap or free car parks in out-of-town shopping centres.

One suggestion is for a car parking price rise at suburban retail parks.

Stefan Gurney, the Norwich City Centre manager, called on the government to allow local authorities to make shops pay business rates on retail parks in the suburbs.

At the moment only city centre shops have to pay rates on car parks, meaning they are far more expensive. In some places in the centre of Norwich it costs �20 to park for over six hours.

Reducing parking prices in the city centre is unlikely because it would lead to more congestion and hit council income.

But Mr Gurney said prices could be reduced after 5pm to encourage more people to visit and boost shops, restaurants and bars.

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He said: 'We are close to capacity a peak periods.'

And Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: 'I know from the amount of correspondence I get that parking in the city can be a real challenge, particularly at this time of year.'

MP for Norwich North Chloe Smith, right, called for the Northern Distributor Road to go ahead to deal with congestion in the city. She said: 'One thing really important for Norwich is making sure there is enough infrastructure around us.'

Park and ride has been touted for years as a solution to congested city centres. And Mr Gurney said the system could change, meaning more buses run at peak periods from 7am to 9am to carry workers and visitors.

Denise Carlo from the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group (NNTAG) also supported the call for charging for out-of-town parking and improving park and ride. She said: 'The reason we have congestion in the northern suburbs is because we have a large number of stores all offering free car parking. We don't have a level playing field. We have an extensive park-and-ride system in Norwich but the county council is making it less attractive.'

Earlier this year toilets were removed and prices increased to save �1m. But in October the Postwick service was opened on a Saturday and there are plans to expand the site.