Town planners 'need flexibility' to let the high street evolve
Urban planning in the region's towns and cities will have to fundamentally change to help them weather the storm which changing shopping habits has caused.
This is the view of a building consultant whose firm helped inform the local plan for Greater Norwich.
Chris Leeming, managing director at Lanpro, based in Pottergate in the city, said the evolution in high street use away from retail demands a rethink in how land is allocated.
High-profile retail casualties including Toys R Us, Maplin, East and House of Fraser have caused some to question the future role of the high street, with many concluding that broadening its offering for visitors will be key to survival.
Mr Leeming said: “Planning has to keep up with technological changes and the way that people use the city centre.
“Retail is struggling and that is not just about the internet – it is about retail offering, making the city a place people want to visit.
“The high street is going to represent the shift towards culture and leisure. Our interaction with the city is going to change and planning and development has a massive part to play.”
Mr Leeming said policies on land allocation in the city centre for retail and hospitality would have to adapt to consumers’ changing demands.
“It is a plan-led process which is fine, but it needs to be flexible,” he said.
“I do not think anyone has the answer yet but all the stakeholders have to evolve with the times.
“We have not been hit as hard by the retail downturn as other places, footfall is still good, but we have to adapt the current use of the city centre to reflect the modern market place.”
Lanpro, which also has offices in Colchester, London, York and Retford, has worked on student accommodation in Norwich city centre, which Mr Leeming says boost the retail and leisure sectors and nighttime economy.
Mr Leeming said the company’s strong stream of enquiries about available sites for student housing shows there are “plenty of people wanting to invest in Norwich”.
He added that planners will have to “let the market dictate what it needs”, with land for employment likely to be one of the next key focuses.
The business, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this month, is involved in the planning of a new settlement near Hethel – a type of development which Mr Leeming hopes will take hold more widely in Norfolk.
“There has to be an ambition to do different in Norfolk. The planning process as far as I can remember has involved sticking development in the same place time after time. The next big thing will be new settlements and they certainly need to be debated,” he said.