Plans for new “world-class” Norwich literary centre set for approval

An artist's impression of the new literary hub planned by Writers' Centre Norwich at Gladstone House. An artist's impression of the new literary hub planned by Writers' Centre Norwich at Gladstone House.

Saturday, March 1, 2014
1:21 PM

Plans to create an international literary hub in the heart of Norwich have been recommended for approval by council bosses.

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The £8.5m revamp of Grade II-listed Gladstone House in St Giles Street could establish a world-class centre for literary study, translation and performance, according to Writers’ Centre Norwich, which is behind the plans – though concerns have been raised by heritage groups.

A new 120-seat auditorium for book readings would be built in the gardens of the house, which was built in the late 18th century, and the later rear annexe demolished, with apartments built for a writer and translator in residence. Teaching spaces, a private basement bar and a cafe are also included in the new-look building.

But English Heritage has opposed the plans, on the basis that some of the alterations lack “clear and convincing justification”, and the Friends of Gladstone House campaign say the new auditorium would block views of the building’s south facade.

Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich, said the new centre would build on Norwich’s status as a Unesco City of Literature – one of only seven worldwide.

“This will be an important piece of cultural infrastructure for the city.

“It will bring money into the city and raise our profile on the national and international stage, and give people access to the best writers and storytellers in the world,” he said.

“We understand people will be anxious about it, but we are committed to working with with the city council, the conservation department, English Heritage and other groups to make sure we get it right.

“We want to open a building that people haven’t had access to for decades. We are planning on being there for a long time, and planning to create something for the city and the people. It has to be appropriate for Norwich as that’s what the city expects.”

The building would be leased free of charge to the centre by Norwich City Council, which would retain ownership, and the work would be funded by a £3m Arts Council grant, smaller contributions from Norfolk County Council, the University of East Anglia, which is a partner, and trusts and foundations. The remainder of the £8.5m cost will need to be raised before planned work begins in summer next year, for opening in October 2016.

Civic watchdog The Norwich Society is in favour of the proposals, but has reservations over the auditorium’s positioning, noise and light emissions, and has asked for them to be considered in detail before a decision is made.

Thomas Ziolkowski, a spokesman for the Friends of Gladstone House campaign, said: “The plan to substantially harm Gladstone House as proposed and build a new auditorium obscuring most of its beautiful south facade from public view is definitely not the best and most approporate way to conserve this beautiful building.”

Planning officers have backed the proposals in a report to Norwich City Council’s planning committee, saying the project has “notable benefits in terms of strengthening the cultural status of Norwich”.

Opening the garden to the public and reviving an underused building must be balanced against the harm Gladstone House, they say, but they reach a conclusion that it “is necessary in realising the optimum viable use”.

A decision will be made by Norwich City Council’s planning committee on Thursday morning.

36 comments

  • So, Voice of reason, what was that about weasel phrases? "Writers' Centre Norwich seeks to explore the artistic and social power of creative writing through pioneering and collaborative projects with writers and other partners".

    Report this comment

    Kaspar

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Kasper has an excellent point. The UEA's Spring Literary Festival has had amazing response. I think the WCN has a lot to learn about organising events in a City of Literature.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • I have got the date right? 1st March?

    Report this comment

    biglingers

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • I think its a real shame that the funding generated by the UNESCO City of Literature award is being wasted on an ill-conceived vanity project. £8.5 million (plus the additional thousands in yearly upkeep, no doubt at taxpayers expense) could provide a lot of resources for our local libraries and schools. Lets get young across Norfolk people reading rather than wasting money destroying cultural assets in the name of culture on behalf of this self-appointed literary elite!

    Report this comment

    ed

    Monday, March 3, 2014

  • Lots of objections to the planning proposals from the citizens of Norwich. Surely such a controversial subject should not have been so undercover? The City of Literature exists without the need to spend so much tax payers money in these times of cuts and austerity.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Monday, March 3, 2014

  • Voice of reason, the building is in a very good condition, obscuring the view of it would be a discrace! Not to mention a huge waste of tax payers money, that could be used to renovate an unused building somewhere more suitable. You would think the advice from experts would be enough to get this refused.

    Report this comment

    eggmizzle

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • All we need now is for the county council to do their job and bring the reading age of the population past ten years old.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • just what planet is norwich city LABOUR council on

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • Why have these plans set for approval next week when so many objections have been submitted? 8.5 million pounds need to be raised, but where will future financing come from? The council tax payers of both Norwich and Norfolk need an answer to this question. The fact that Norwich is a UNESCO City of Literature is a wonderful accolade to the City. As Kasper points out, the plans for Gladstone House are not fit for purpose.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • The comments from Sam Mymystery are disingenuous. No mention of building over the garden. No mention of removing changing original features. Both feature in the plans on view at the City Hall. There is nothing here for the majority of local residents – just the gaping hole in the finances which they’ll probably have to pick up. And at least at the moment when walking past the house one can view the beautiful rear façade and garden – this will be difficult when the 2 metre high wall is built along the side of the garden.

    Report this comment

    Kaspar

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

  • Voice of Reason uses the phrase 'narrow passageway running beside the building'. This is to be the main access to Gladstone House and the 120 seat auditorium. Surely this planning application does not comply with health and safety regulations. There are other buildings in Norwich suitable for a National Writers Centre with much better access.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • It is unacceptable that the City Council plans to build over the small remaining garden of Gladstone House. If the new 120-seat auditorium is fully used 7 days a week then the noise and disruption to the very near-by residential houses will be horrendous. Some will have the rear wall of the auditorium around 5 metres from their houses, others will overlook the dustbins. If it were not the City Council's own project fronted by WCN , would the Planning Committee really recommend approval? Of course not. And why when budgets are so tight are the City Council leasing Gladstone House free of charge, foregoing over £1million in rent? Especially as "private basement bar" implies that the building will not be open to the general public of Norwich who might prefer the £1million to be spent on public services for all.

    Report this comment

    Vic

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • I objected to this proposal and am very sorry to see it being recommended for acceptance. I see no reason to despoil this proud building and its setting. If it is not suitable for the WCN why can't they seek a more appropriate place or acquire a brown field site to satisfy their needs? Though the Norwich Society have not objected they have raised significant issues. I am disappointed that they didn't feel this strongly enough to have objected. I too think that this a vanity project and that Norwich will pay a large cost over the years as a result.

    Report this comment

    John Doy

    Monday, March 3, 2014

  • While the Writers’ Centre Norwich are to be commended for the work that they have done in relation to UNESCO City of Literature, their plans for Gladstone House are not fit for purpose. The alterations that are needed to a grade II listed Georgian building suggest that the building is not appropriate for their needs and will result in the desecration of a building of architectural significance. The access to the building is poor via a narrow alley and if the centre has an event that is fully booked then the emergency exit is a grave concern. No building in the small garden should be allowed, it is an oasis of green surrounded by concrete. All alterations to the building should be sympathetic and not remove any original features. Why is the Planning Committee recommending that this vandalism should proceed?

    Report this comment

    Kaspar

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • A new comment has suddenly appeared, but this was submitted on March 1st. Why has it only just appeared? Suggest you read Vic's interesting comments from that date.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

  • And what are the Green Party in opposition saying to this mal practise, this undermining of public consultation and need? utter silence from their lead EU candidate on the 8.5 million.... are the greens there to greenwash every Labour ballsup?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • It is bad enough for the city council to throw over £1m of taxpayer's money into a project that will benefit a handful of writers in the city, but to decide to do this by ignoring expert bodies, the council's own advisors and the views of the public shows complete contempt for the citizens they represent.

    Report this comment

    FriendsOfGladstoneHouse.org

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Why have these plans set for approval next week when so many objections have been submitted? 8.5 million pounds need to be raised, but where will future financing come from? The council tax payers of both Norwich and Norfolk need an answer to this question. The fact that Norwich is a UNESCO City of Literature is a wonderful accolade to the City. As Kasper points out, the plans for Gladstone House are not fit for purpose.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • please remind me again how much has this council got to save this year?

    Report this comment

    i am mostly wrong??

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • The WCN mission statement says it all: "Writers' Centre Norwich seeks to explore the artistic and social power of creative writing through pioneering and collaborative projects with writers and other partners." •Nothing for the citizens of Norwich •No responsibility •No accountability •No deliverables Yet they want our money and want to ruin our heritage building Yes, it's our heritage, not theirs - None of the WCN Board (of 12) appear to originate from Norwich and only 2 claim to live here now. Of the WCN working team (of 16) - only one claims to be a "Norwichian" How many of the WCN supporters actually live in Norwich and pay their council tax here? Very few I would suspect.

    Report this comment

    Kaspar

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • I'm not sure the responses here give a very fair or accurate account of these proposals. The plans for a National Centre for Writing will create an organisation of national and international significance that places Norwich (UNESCO City of Literature and all) at the forefront of literature and will have real benefits for local residents. Not only do these plans bring in significant investment to Norwich (for the majority of this money is being raised from private and non-tax payer sources), but the centre itself will have schools, community, and public access at the heart of what happens there. Furthermore, it is misleading to say that the fabric of a heritage building will be vandalised. This building is to be fully utilised for the first time in a long time. The designers have worked with the heritage of the building and the Georgian features preserved. Most importantly of all, people will get to enjoy one of the most attractive Georgian buildings in central Norwich, where now they merely walk past it. I'm very much in favour of these plans.

    Report this comment

    Sam Mymystery

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

  • And why when budgets are so tight are the City Council leasing Gladstone House free of charge, foregoing over £1million in rent? Especially as "private basement bar" implies that the building will not be open to the general public of Norwich who might prefer the £1million to be spent on public services for all.

    Report this comment

    Vic

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Could the money be spent in trying to help those in Norfolk who can't read or who have been poorly educated and let down by the system? Having poorly educated citizens does nobody any favours, though I suppose there would be many who would refuse to learn these days.

    Report this comment

    HappisburghHarry

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • HappisburhHarry - couldn’t agree with you more. In a reply to a freedom of information request to an official government body the percentage of people who do not reach a National Qualifications Framework level 1 in Norfolk is 17.2% and in Norwich it is 18.1%. Money should be spent on trying to improve these people’s lives rather than throwing money at people who can already read and write.

    Report this comment

    AvidReader

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • Are the the Writers Centre being very creative? What are the veritable facts? Why the sudden euphoria ? Why has the local authority’s own Conservation Officer published a protest at being totally ignored by the planners ? Why was the recommendation known internally well before being released to the public ? Why was it ever made before the public consultation had even ended ? Why the sudden rush to get approval ? Let us all first have a full, open and transparent public debate.

    Report this comment

    NorwichSceptic

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Why have these plans set for approval next week when so many objections have been submitted? 8.5 million pounds need to be raised, but where will future financing come from? The council tax payers of both Norwich and Norfolk need an answer to this question. The fact that Norwich is a UNESCO City of Literature is a wonderful accolade to the City. As Kasper points out, the plans for Gladstone House are not fit for purpose.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Why have these plans set for approval next week when so many objections have been submitted? 8.5 million pounds need to be raised, but where will future financing come from? The council tax payers of both Norwich and Norfolk need an answer to this question. The fact that Norwich is a UNESCO City of Literature is a wonderful accolade to the City. As Kasper points out, the plans for Gladstone House are not fit for purpose.

    Report this comment

    ANN BASSHAM

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • Good grief. People from outside Norwich trying to renovate our listed buildings and spend money on construction! Now I understand why the whole thing is flawed.

    Report this comment

    JSmith

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • UEA already has proven world class literary status, underpinning Norwich’s UNESCO accreditation. It caters for both students and the public. Why spend £8.5m, mostly from taxpayers, to destroy a fine building so as to create a “private club” ?

    Report this comment

    AvidReader

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • this is just more proof that labour from local level to national level just hasnt got a clue when it comes down to spending money and priorities . Most people would want to see money spent on housing and jobs as a top priority

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • What a total waste of tax payers money - if people want to read, let them do so at home!

    Report this comment

    Norfolk John

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • This preservation of jobs for jobsworth is not worth English Heritage's preservation? This development should be combined with the re-development of what once was a badly designed council carpark, now just for the priviledged few, an eyesore kept in the City centre for unknown reasons. To disturb City residents twice is unquestionably bad logistics and planning. Where would these 8.5 million be cut off?

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • "Join Writers’ Centre Norwich in the elegant surroundings of The Assembly House for an enchanting evening of poetry and music" it said, so we did - it was part of the recent Dragon Festival. Shambolic organisation and hardly any engagement with the audience (with apologies to George Szirtes and Addison's Uncle, both brilliant). Billed to start at 7pm. Nothing occurred until three people took to the stage around 7.20pm - no introduction, no programmes handed out - audience had no idea what was happening apart from some awfully out of tune music. And so the disorganisation continued, not surprisingly half of the audience disappeared at the interval. Second half no better. Would I want my taxes to be used to fund WCN? No way, the proverbial "brewery" springs to mind.

    Report this comment

    Kaspar

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • Yet another Labour administration giving away free leases, just like their counterparts on the County Council! Votes to be had here! Why don't they charge a reasonable rent to offset the awful rise in Council Tax this year? They will never learn how to be businesslike.

    Report this comment

    Matilda

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

  • What utter nonsense Kaspar. The building is in an increasingly sorry state. This will revive it, not desecrate it. The ' oasis of green' is invisible except from the narrow passageway running beside the building. Hiding behind weasel phrases like 'not fit for purpose' is just plain evasive. They are recommending support because it ISN'T vandalism! When will the heritage lobby in Norwich stop looking gift horses in the mouth?

    Report this comment

    Voice of reason

    Saturday, March 1, 2014

  • I'm not sure the responses here give a very fair or accurate account of these proposals. The plans for a National Centre for Writing will create an organisation of national and international significance that places Norwich (UNESCO City of Literature and all) at the forefront of literature and will have real benefits for local residents. Not only do these plans bring in significant investment to Norwich (for the majority of this money is being raised from private and non-tax payer sources), but the centre itself will have schools, community, and public access at the heart of what happens there. Furthermore, it is misleading to say that the fabric of a heritage building will be vandalised. This building is to be fully utilised for the first time in a long time. The designers have worked with the heritage of the building and the Georgian features preserved. Most importantly of all, people will get to enjoy one of the most attractive Georgian buildings in central Norwich, where now they merely walk past it. I'm very much in favour of these plans.

    Report this comment

    Sam Mymystery

    Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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