It’s fair to conclude there is something wrong with the council’s consultation process
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
The words 'Save This Building' were painted on a hessian sheet which was draped over the delapidated frontage of Burrell's abandoned ironmongers shop in Unthank Road earlier this month, which prompted several residents to contact The Norwich Society to ask what could be done to prevent its demolition.
The Evening News disclosed the Victorian shop's planning history – and current status – and illustrated how little most residents know or understand about the planning processes, and applications, which shape the landscape of their city.
It came as some surprise to our correspondents that planning permission for demolition of the shop had been granted as long ago as June 2014.
The most recent planning application this year was for the erection of a new shop on the site, with a four-bedroomed dwelling above it. Earlier this year, an application for two shops below was withdrawn.
Some correspondents were under the impression that the shop was in a conservation area. It may come as a shock to many who live in the heart of the Golden Triangle, but the Newmarket Road conservation area stops at Mount Pleasant and the Heigham Grove Conservation Area doesn't start until the broken line of Cambridge Street and Park Lane. The whole of Unthank Road west of Park Lane, and the area north of it, are not in any conservation area.
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The planners and their councillors deliberated on the fate of the splendid old façade without all but a handful of local residents knowing anything about it – so who is to blame for the breakdown in communication between the council and its residents?
Norwich City Council will point to the vast amount of information held on its website. If you go to www.norwich.gov.uk and enter your postcode into the 'My Neighbourhood' box at the top of the page, a impressively large list of topics is offered, from the nearest allotments through the licensed houses of multiple occupation and grit bins, to the closest surgeries and health centres. Included are 'planning applications', and a click on that will bring up a list of current and past applications in your area.At this point, the information flow stutters a bit. You have to wade through a long list of items from the past dozen years before you discover what is currently in front of the planning applications committee. Once you have alighted on something (live) that interests you, it takes a considerable amount of time, patience and perseverance to form an impression of the multi-storey flats your next-door neighbour is planning to build on his back garden, or the tripled-sized extension the couple on the other side are proposing, which looks suspiciously like student accommodation in a house occupied by grandchild-less people with grown-up children who no longer live at home.Little wonder, then, that only two people made comments about the proposed demolition when it was passed by the planning applications committee in 2014. Fifteen objections, and one petition, were submitted earlier this year and were unanimous in their opposition to a decision that had been made two years earlier.It is surely fair to conclude that no matter how much information the council crams into its website, if residents (a) don't know where to look, (b) don't know that they should be looking in the first place, and (c) can't easily understand what they are being told when they find it, then there is something wrong with the council's consultation process.In this day and age, it is ludicrous that councils still rely on sellotaping a letter onto a nearby lamp post. It would be far better to display a large notice which says: 'This property is subject to a planning application' with the website address beneath.On the website, there should be a map with prominent markers denoting those sites which have current planning applications pending, a click away from disclosing all the details. These changes might alert local residents that action is urgently required if they wish to save a much-loved building in their midst, and it would prevent several of them from simply wasting their time by sending in inappropriate, and out-of-time, comments and objections.As for the old Burrell's building, it will be demolished and a new two storey unit will take its place. The restaurant and fast-food outlet on the ground floor, and the flat above, will look better than the sad, neglected empty building of the past nine years. Everyone will regret that the owners will not reinstate the Victorian frontage, but they alone have come forward to maintain the site's existence as a retail outlet. For all our regret at the march of progress swallowing another link with our heritage, no one else has put up the money to preserve it – that much we know.www.thenorwichsociety.org.uk
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