The English coastal town of Great Yarmouth is a picture postcard that the local government and many residents of Norfolk no longer see, leading to atrocious architectural planning decisions and requiring a new lens in which to view the town.
Header Photo: Venice, Norfolk by John McKiernan ©2020
Broad Row at Sunset
Seeing some hoarding with architectural visualisations for a new swimming pool due to blight the seafront from 2022 onwards, I decided to post this series of postcard-esque iPhone snaps of attractive locations in Great Yarmouth. Photographed over the past 9 months, while I have been living in the town, the intention is to foster debate and conversation, both inside and well beyond the town.
Some Caribbean Sunshine
Car Park Affliction
One of the strongest impressions on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in June 2019 was the sheer number of hideous car parks that afflict the town, see bottom of page. In conversations that have followed, it appears to me that the majority of people in Norfolk are almost blind to these unnecessary eyesores.
Old Beach Building
In conversations with locals, I almost universally hear moans that the council is not doing enough to tarmac over more of the beachfront to create further parking spaces.
Although I have not personally met anyone locally who shares my horror at these monstrosities, clearly there are people who do fight to try and protect some of the natural beauty from car park developments. The dunes on the Caster side of the pier is the finest example I have noted.
A Mental Health Haven | Caster Dunes
Get Out More
My conclusion, or should I say assumption, from what I have learned is that people who make decisions in this town don’t travel very far and seem oblivious to how the market for UK visitors, and those from abroad, has changed – and changed dramatically.
Back of Asda
Swimming Pool Hoarding
Who is the new 25m swimming pool on the seafront for? Is it meant to be an attraction, and if yes, who will it attract? What is the business case for blocking off the seafront and creating even more parking spaces, when the existing 100,000 car spaces – slight exaggeration – are empty about 80% of the year!
And are major new build public building projects exempt from seeking to be net-carbon neutral and generate at least a portion of their own energy usage? If there is to be a solar-panel roof or photovoltaic cells or other forms of energy self-generation it is not clear from the promotion.
Britannia Pier 2020 (advertising 2019 events)
Great Yarmouth desperately needs to attract a new range of visitors who are not constrained by having a fixed daily budget to spend. Tourists can go anywhere to play slot machine amusements and there are many fine and attractive piers around the country. For most urban dwellers there will be a 25m pool within the borough they live and will not need to travel to Great Yarmouth to swim.
Wind Farm Shelter
Photography, Port and Pursuits
When comparing Great Yarmouth to Margate, Hastings, Morecambe Bay, Torquay or even Brighton, it is pretty easy to see where the town has competitive advantages.
The town does not need to build any more new buildings for visitors, it needs to broaden its understanding of what people outside Great Yarmouth like to do, then it could excel at a fraction of the cost.
Water Slide at Dawn
For photographers, urban geographers, historians, students and the general public interested in industrial design, architecture, urban change, history, environment, climate change, and so on, the town could be a mecca. It has everything from interesting structures, which are truly unique to the town, to open spaces that should really have World Heritage Status.
Year Round Visitors
Great Yarmouth is much bigger than Margate or Folkestone in Kent, and any of the Essex or Suffolk seaside towns that I have visited. It would be difficult to cover the whole area on foot in one day. This presents a fantastic opportunity for the short stay market at any time of year as the light is always changing as is the port.
The town is awash with stunning buildings going back through the ages, with the Medieval town walls dating back to the 1200s and King Henry III.
More on the wall available on the Tourist Information website
Airbnb Holiday Let
And there are plenty of more recent buildings that are not only of architectural interest but also perfect for repurposing.
Seemingly lost spaces will have design and architectural interest to many people and offer professional event organisers ample opportunity to develop interesting events that could pull a different audience to the town.
The beach offers opportunities for a multitude of club activities, like open water swimming, which is an all year round pursuit and that could utilise the pier with competitors using the theatre changing rooms and as a warm up arena.
Environment and nature walks, with two rivers, the Broads National Park and marshland that attracts migrating birds right on the edge of the town should be one of the biggest attractions for Great Yarmouth.
Sunset over Breydon Water and Rotting Jetty
The rebuilt Norman-era Minster Church of St Nicholas, along with the vast cemetery attached offers a further opportunity to entice nature lovers, walkers and historians.
Allowing more wilding and becoming a nature reserve could quickly make this part of town a must see for the millions of annual visitors.
The local authority needs to realise that there is a whole new audience that can be attracted to the town beyond those wanting to play a penny-drop and buy an ice-cream or chips.
Discarded structures with fascinating histories can quickly establish new narratives through storytelling and repurposing.
Fourth Industrial Revolution
The repurposing can be through events, with particular focus on new technology and putting Great Yarmouth at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is also the main purpose of Fourth Portal. Creating work hubs and learning spaces are other purposes that can be suggested.
Restored Queen’s Street
Big Idea | The Winter Gardens
The best idea in town is Mark Duffield’s moving the 1800s Winter Gardens from its hemmed in location on the seafront to a desolate waste of prime riverside on North Quay.
North Quay | Potential Winter Gardens Location
As a local estate agent owner, whose business has been operating for several generations, Mark understands the history, the context and the risks to Great Yarmouth if it continues on the present trajectory. Shifting this heritage building offers a chance of a new beginning and provides a much stronger business case as an event and botanical garden, in addition to creating an iconic beacon on entry into the town.
Seafront Winter Gardens
Spending £27m pounds of scarce public money on a manciple swimming pool, double the £13.65m (BBCNews) new build cost of the Turner Contemporary in Margate is madness. Read more on the Ambitious Gateway post.
Dreaded Car Parks
As warned, just a tiny sample of some of the car parks that litter the town.
Car Park Afflictions
Great Yarmouth has Great Potential post Covid-19 if, – a huge IF – if the local authority and elected officials take a step back and ask, what does the world outside Norfolk look for in a trip to an English coastal town?
There are recent building projects around that show there is potential. The Venetian Waterways is a beautiful space enjoyed by locals and visitors alike and does not require vast sums of public money to be maintained, however this is a rarity.
Venetian Waterways at Dawn
Regardless of your views, I do hope this post has sparked a few thoughts and I encourage comments below if you will please? A few more images to end the post.
From Outta Space
Images: John McKiernan ©2020 No reuse or reproduction without express written consent.