As city and town centres change in character and work, retail and leisure patterns change, is it little wonder that residential conversions are soaring?
30 years ago, perhaps even 10 years ago, most people commuted to a workplace. Weekends were time for leisure, whether that was a trip to the countryside or a town or city centre. The internet changed everything.
Commuters to office workplaces could now work remotely from home, with high speed wifi no longer the preserve of companies. Shopping, even supermarket shopping could be done online with the result that roads are emptier it seems to us and town centres are rapidly becoming ghost towns.
Great Yarmouth locally has seen BHS, Marks and Spencer, Palmers and Debenhams close in the town centre. Lowestoft is suffering as is Norwich – there are vacant units in Chapelfield, Castle Mall and most obviously in the Grand Arcade which is bereft of tenants, it seems since Jamie’s Italian and others left.
Toys R Us with its huge car park and building is empty in Norwich too and what we’re seeing there is conversions on a large scale.
Surrey Street, near John Lewis, has become apartments, Grosvenor House and Mercy night club on Prince of Wales Road are residential. Westlegate Tower became flats some time ago. St Ann’s Quarter on King Street is a new build development overlooking the Wensum.
Some people are alarmed by this. It is sad to see town and city centres empty of shops, with ever declining footfall, but isn’t it inevitable without some long term strategic thinking?
Liverpool, as a city, has engaged in joined up thinking. Recognising the potential decline of retail footfall, the council there invested in events for the city centre which draw people in and encourage them to spend time and money there.
We’ve seen similar locally – the Go Go sculpture trails in Norwich, the Light Tunnel at Christmas and in Yarmouth, an outdoor ice rink, which led to increased spending.
But is this putting a sticking plaster an a terminal wound?
Time will tell.
What we do know at Envision CAD is that people still like the convenience of town and city centre living – perhaps we should embrace commercial to residential conversions as part of a strategy to breathe life into these places?
What do you think?