Could a radical idea of moving the last surviving Victorian cast iron and glass Winter Gardens in the world become the inspiration for a faded Edwardian seaside resort, and a beacon for entrepreneurs seeking to advance the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Disclaimer: This post discusses a big idea and whether it could become reality; some of the facts maybe incorrect as the information has been pieced together over a few day trips to Great Yarmouth, and so subject to being updated.
The short videos below discuss the radical idea of Mark Duffield, a local resident and businessman in the English seaside resort of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, who suggests moving a dilapidating Victorian Winter Gardens from a crowded beach area to create an elegant gateway for his fading town.
There is general agreement in Great Yarmouth that the town is in desperate need of investment and regeneration. The local borough council along with the county council and other government agencies have been drawing up plans and acquiring key locations in a bid to improve the environs and make it more attractive for residents and existing businesses, while hoping to attract new forms of high worth commerce, visitors and to grow the population.
The tourist heyday was in the 1960s and 70s when millions would make Great Yarmouth their annual getaway. As cheap international flights began to eat into this lucrative market the town was able to pivot towards North Sea oil, to supplement its only other non-tourist industry, fishing, in particularly herring trawling.
The long slow decline of the urban fabric appears to coincide with the offshore oil fields becoming uneconomical when compared to cheaper onshore oil extraction abroad. Then around 2005, acknowledgement that wind could become a viable energy source led to the emergence of offshore wind farms, bringing a potential new boon for the town and a number of ‘transformational’ planning consultation documents highlighting areas with potential for redevelopment.
North Quay sits at the gateway to the town, with the single lane A47 from Norwich and the train station to the north of the development area, see development boundary below, and at the confluence of Rivers Yare and Bure.
In responding to the consultation, entrepreneur Gillian Harwood states;
“it is a huge waste of heritage, opportunity for sustainable re-use as well as energy to demolish any building of character and architectural or historical interest along North Quay itself. The west side of North Quay still retains a very unusual array of building types and architecture of various dates and which could add opportunity, authenticity and interest to the future development.”
North Quay: L. Rusting Dutch Barns. M. Houses. R. Waste Ground Train Station Approach
Kew Gardens of Great Yarmouth
Mark Duffield’s big idea was not just to move the Winter Gardens for the sake of it! It was for a specific purpose, to house some of the rare plants and fauna that are under threat on the Broads, and become possible home to the Broads Authority. 2mins from North Quay is an 8-mile path across the Broads, see video.
Since telling other people of Mark’s idea, including the local Civic Society, where there was a warm reception, other thoughts have developed. When discussing the Winter Gardens with retired town conservation and master-planner, David Pigram**, he spoke of the need to make a viable business case before considering any attempt to restore a historic building, ‘how will it support itself in the medium to long term?’ This is why the idea of placing the Winter Gardens over the train station emerged, more in the video below
**David Pigram’s formal response to this idea here (posted 16th December 2019)
Moving The Winter Gardens
According to Mark Duffield it is estimated to cost £11m to restore the Winter Gardens in situ, fully erected in its present location, whereas to dismantle, restore and rebuild will cost in the region of £6m. (These figures have not been verified by the author). So moving site could make sense?
Winter Garden Concessions
Beyond being the train station arrival hall, the Broads Waterway authority HQ, a home to a number of rare and endangered plants, and a beacon welcoming visitors, the Winter Gardens could also become a hub for a number of other attractions, including;
- Starting location for walks across the Broads, with exhibitions, maps, and environmental information.
- Home to a permanent James Paget exhibition with conference and learning facilities focused towards ecology, pathology, herbal-medicine and wellbeing
- Exhibition on risks posed to the town, Broads and wider East Anglia from climate change, with potential solutions.
- Based on the design of The Great Exhibition, The Crystal Palace, the Winter Gardens could be Norfolk’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Palace, exhibiting and demonstrating everything from Artificial Intelligence to the Age of Internet of Things.
- A beautiful 5G workspace hub, with incredible views across the Yare river and Broads, attracting entrepreneurs and students from Norwich and surrounding areas could make for a start-up incubator (appropriate for a glass house!)
- A high quality cafe and restaurant.
- Electric car charging points and, in the future, the first stop on a Great Yarmouth tram ride.
These are just a few ideas in a few days, all viable and potentially interesting to investors.
Along with the stunning Vauxhall bridge, the gateway to Great Yarmouth could be stunning, and when lit-up at night a huge draw for miles around and beyond. On the other side of the river, sensitive and quality housing mixed with small business units, as being proposed around North Quay and The Conge, see video above, could shift Great Yarmouth’s fortunes dramatically.
This excellent short film, created with local children, tells the story of the iconic Vauxhall bridge and its long heritage.
To read more on the Winter Gardens and its Grade II* listing, follow link.
This idea captures the essence of Haphazard Business, how do ideas become reality. From a Innovation Hub perspective, on paper at least, this seems a fantastic opportunity. Fourth Industrial Revolution entrepreneurs developing the next generation of technologies in a glass house based on the iconic Crystal Palace that was the Wonder of the World in the first Industrial Revolution, has a poetic ring.
Will it be considered?