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Plans for £8.5m National Centre for Writing in Norwich approved - but it could yet be scuppered

PUBLISHED: 12:37 08 May 2014 | UPDATED: 13:30 08 May 2014

An artist's impression of the proposed National Centre for Writing in Norwich. Photo: Supplied.

An artist's impression of the proposed National Centre for Writing in Norwich. Photo: Supplied.

Supplied

A new £8.5m literary centre for the centre of Norwich has been given permission by councillors - but the Secretary of State could yet block the proposals.

The proposed revamp of Grade II-listed Gladstone House, in St Giles Street, to create a National Centre for Writing, has proved controversial, with a 321-signature petition against what objectors dubbed a “21st century folly” submitted to City Hall.

But members of Norwich City Council’s planning committee today followed advice from officers and granted permission at a meeting in City Hall, after more than two and a half hours of discussion and debate.

Councillors voted by 8 votes to 3, with one abstention to approve the plan.

However, communities secretary Eric Pickles has approached the council and asked to be given some time to decide if he wants to ‘call in’ the application or not.

That means planning consent cannot be formally given until he has made that decision - which is likely to be in three weeks.

Writers’ Centre Norwich, which is behind the plans, says it would establish a world-class centre for literary study, translation and performance.

The plan includes a new 120-seat auditorium for book readings in the garden of the house, which was built in the late 18th century. It would also see the later rear annexe knocked down, with apartments built for a writer and translator in residence.

Teaching spaces, a private basement bar and a cafe also form part of the proposals.

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 cost will need to be raised before work could start.

Objectors said the work proposed would damage the building, and obscure its south facade, while heritage groups have also raised concerns at the adaptations.

The Friends of Gladstone House were also worried about the changes to be made, the size of the auditorium and the access to the building, while the Norwich Society, although supportive of the project, says a redesign of the auditorium was needed.

A proposal by Green councillor Paul Neale to refuse the plan because the auditorium’s design and detail would harm the listed building was lost by 7 votes to 5.

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