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Norwich city centre public spaces plan

Introduction

Norwich is known for its beautiful buildings, which frame many streets and spaces of great character. These public rooms host the life of the city-commerce, culture and movement. Being able to walk across the road easily, ride your bike, stop to sit at a cafe under the shade of a tree, watching your children playing – these are the sorts of experiences that help make cities good places to be.

The Norwich 2040 City Vision1 values the way good public spaces promote creativity, liveability, fairness, connectivity and dynamism. It explains that:

  • Nurturing creativity involves regenerating urban spaces, developing the unique mix of experiences in the city centre and maximising the use of our heritage assets to transform the perception of Norwich and entice people into the city who are increasingly working and shopping from home.
  • Liveability will flow from offering low-emission and affordable transport that protects biodiversity and air quality in open spaces.
  • Fairness will arise where physical activity can be enjoyed in public spaces that are welcoming to our citizens in their full diversity.
  • People will be connected in a city that is great for walking and cycling with spaces that enable people to come together, share and exchange.
  • The dynamism of the city depends on supporting independent businesses and attracting multi-nationals, which is helped by a good city brand image.

This is in tune with New Anglia’s Local Industrial Strategy2 and the Norwich BID’s Retail Strategy3.

The Covid-19 pandemic has battered confidence in the economic future of the city centre. Publishing this public space plan will inspire confidence that positive changes can happen in support of the council’s recovery plan4, published in June. We have seen more walking and cycling during the pandemic and citizens have shown how much they value the opportunity to be in the city’s open spaces. The recovery plan will boost this further through investment in infrastructure to support these activities.

Fortunately, many interventions are already planned for the next five years, but what these are and how they fit together is not widely understood. The information about them is contained in a variety of planning applications, funding applications, transport and planning policy documents. This plan aims to present a digest of the information in one simple document.

We have produced it quickly to meet a pressing moment of need to communicate positive change. It is not a new strategy or a review of public space priorities from first principles, which is why there has been no public consultation on this document.

Extensive public engagement and equality impact assessments will help shape the design of individual projects. The city centre is increasingly host to a range of diverse communities and their voice is important when understanding how to cater for everyone’s needs.

Some of the projects are on the highway, controlled by the county council; others are on land managed by the city council and many are on private land. It is very important that the new designs for spaces are robust and can be maintained within the resources available to the public sector in an era of financial austerity. If we succeed in our aim to create spaces that are valued by local people there is a good chance that local groups will assist with maintenance activities, as happens currently outside City Hall and is part of the plan for Castle Gardens.

We also aim to design out crime through creating appealing spaces used throughout the day. Castle Gardens, Hay Hill and the area under the Magdalen Street flyover are currently problematic in this respect. Free events in the evening can help, such as those organized by Norwich BID’s Head Out Not Home initiative. Carefully locating CCTV and making sure that critical sight-lines are not obscured by trees is also part of combatting crime and ASB.

Trees and shrubs are sometimes dismissed as purely an aesthetic feature that is a financial burden. However, this view neglects the many services that vegetation provides in a city – cleaning the air, filtering rainwater reaching the ground to combat flash-flooding, slowing traffic by providing a sense of street enclosure and promoting biodiversity. The government is calling for a massive tree-planting programme and it is important that government allocate financial resources intelligently to support the urban tree stock, not just plant it.

The funding arrangements for these capital projects are complicated. A reason for producing this plan now is to provide the context for why we have included public space projects at Hay Hill and St Giles in the Town Investment Plan that will be submitted to government at the end of July to secure money from their Towns Fund.

The projects section at the end of this document shows the location of all the projects, explains the funding sources and implementation timescales. Some project have funds secured, others have an identified source but confirmation of funding is awaited, while for others a specific source has not yet been identified. Apart from the Towns Fund, the main sources of funding are:

  • Transforming Cities Fund from the Department for Transport – an announcement on funding in response to the submission by the County Council is imminent.
  • New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership – the LEP allocates funds from the government to support projects that promote economic development through implementation of the Local Industrial Strategy and Economic Strategy for Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • Community Infrastructure Levy – decisions are made annually by the Greater Norwich Growth Board on the allocation of this money that is derived from a tariff on development and pooled by Broadland, South Norfolk and the City Council.
  • Section 106 / 278 – funds from developers that are to be spent on mitigating the effects of development or providing access to it; allocated by the city council where discretion is involved in exactly how it is spent.
  • Developer – on site works to create new streets and spaces, particularly within larger developments.

1 Norwich 2040 City Vision, Norwich City Council (2018)
2 Local Industrial Strategy draft, New Anglia LEP (2020)
3 Retail Strategy, Norwich Bid (2019)
4 Covid-19: A blueprint for recovery, Norwich City Council (2020)