Planners see a future for the city centre

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The Independent Online
Norwich's Castle Mall shopping centre has been awarded the Silver Jubilee Cup for good urban design by the Royal Town Planning Institute. The judges called it as a "shining example" of its type that "points the way to the future of retailing".

The award is timely; edge-of-town and out-of-town shopping malls and superstores have been under increasing attack, most recently by John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Official criticism has been supported by a recent Royal Commission report calling for a major slowing down of Britain's energetic road building programme. The Royal Commission's recommendations aim to discourage over-dependence on private cars and, indirectly, to curb further out of town retail developments; such developments are impossible without new roads linking superstores and malls to existing A-roads.

The Norwich mall encourages people to shop in the city centre. It is accessible from different street levels and well equipped to cope with the needs and antics of young children. It is also designed with the disabled in mind. Most of all it fits neatly into the historic centre of one of Britain's finest towns, proving it is possible for leading retail redevelopments to squeeze into sites superstore chains have tried hard to ignore over the past decade when it was easy to get permission to build on greenfield sites, even if the store design was horrendous.

Access roads linking stores to A-roads have, until recently, also raced through planning procedures.

Although the Norwich mall points one way forward for large-scale retail schemes, the reason the major chains are likely to come back to town is not out of concern for ecology or a sudden fascination with good urban design, but because new out-of-town sites have become hard to get and Britain is reaching superstore saturation point.

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