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‘It’s obscene’ - £80m Norwich revamp set to include just four affordable homes

St Mary's Works, St Mary's Plain, Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

St Mary's Works, St Mary's Plain, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

New homes, a hotel and offices are to be created in Norwich after an £80m revamp of the area around a former shoe factory was given the go-ahead.

St Marys Works soon after it opened in the 1920s. Pic: Archant Library.St Marys Works soon after it opened in the 1920s. Pic: Archant Library.

But opponents to the proposals for St Mary’s Works said it was “obscene” that only four affordable homes are planned as part of the scheme.

The outline application for the development in the area between Oak Street, Duke Street, St Martin’s Lane and St Mary’s Plain, includes 151 homes, office space, a hotel and 120 parking spaces.

It also includes new links between St Martin’s and St Mary’s churches and a public space.

But there was criticism that a viability assessment written for the developers Architekton had argued a provision of 50 affordable homes - which would have hit a 33pc target for affordable housing - would prevent the scheme being cost-effective.

Instead they had argued only four affordable homes, or a commuted sum of £353,234, would be acceptable to allow work to begin at the site.

At a meeting of Norwich City Council’s planning committee today, Labour’s Hugo Malik said such a low level of affordable housing was “obscene”, while Green city councillor Simeon Jackson said allowing that would “set a dangerous precedent”.

Former Green city councillor Dr Andrew Boswell, who objected as a member of the public, said, while he welcomed the principle of the scheme, such a low amount of affordable housing was “unacceptable”.

But council officers said the affordable housing target was just that - a target and not binding.

They said an independent review by the district valuers office had been “broadly consistent” with the developer’s conclusions.

And officers said there would be future opportunities to reassess the viability of providing more affordable homes, when reserved matters connected to the application are discussed.

Concerns were also raised over the height of some of the buildings.

Architekton has said up to 400 jobs could be created by the development.

And Dominic Richards, from the developers, told the committee: “I am not here to use the planning system to get rid of affordable housing.

“We desperately need to create knowledge-based economy jobs in Norwich.

“In order to attract that kind of business to Norwich we need to create a beautiful place for Norwich.

“I am not going to put something in Norwich that does not enhance the beauty of Norwich.”

He said once investment comes forward it could be possible to provide more affordable housing.

Labour’s Keith Driver, Labour councillor and chairman of the planning committee voted in favour of the scheme.

He said: “I think the architecture is good. I can see some of these buildings being listed a hundred years from now when we are all dead and gone.

“The area at the moment is a dark hole and shabby. I think this will brighten it up and regenerate that part of the city.”

But his Labour colleague Mr Malik voted against.

He said: “I am fed up with us continually ignoring the 33pc affordable housing levels.

“We cannot just keep brushing that under the carpet.

“On paper, it’s a fantastic development. I can almost hear the birds and smell the caramel latte, but I’d like the developers to reconsider their profits based on providing just four affordable housing units.”

Green councillor Denise Carlo agreed the council needed to “take a stand” over affordable housing, but the permission was approved by six votes to three.

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