£4m war memorial plan approved - at last

A long-delayed plan to revamp and refurbish Norwich's war memorial was finally given the go-ahead today to the delight of veterans' groups.City council leader Steve Morphew announced a £4m package of improvements to the memorial gardens with work due to begin in early autumn next year.

A long-delayed plan to revamp and refurbish Norwich's war memorial has finally been given the go-ahead after years of campaigning by veterans' groups.

City council leader Steve Morphew has announced a £4m package of improvements to the memorial, criticised last week by former BBC journalist and MP Martin Bell as the worst outside Iraq.

Mr Morphew said: “At last we are in a position to turn this current disgrace into something that reflects the pride people have in Norwich and those who serve.”

The work, due to begin in early autumn next year, will include restoration of the memorial - designed by the eminent architect Sir Edwin Lutyens - and a storage building beneath, as well as the surrounding gardens. It is scheduled to take 16 months.

Crucially, the memorial, currently boarded-up, will also be turned round to face City Hall, something veterans' groups have been requesting for years.

The war memorial has a long history of controversy, with complaints that it was not in a prominent enough position, was difficult to access and in a dirty and unkempt condition.

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Veterans have long complained that the memorial's current position looking out across the market place means they cannot face it during Remembrance Day parades.

More recently, there have been reports of rats crawling over the memorial and young people clambering on it.

The city council has criticised the previous Liberal Democrat administration for announcing improvement work without sufficient funding to complete it.

Now the money has been allocated after the council identified a potential buyer for development land it is selling off at Three Score, Bowthorpe.

The memorial gardens stand on top of a building housing storage units and toilets for the market traders, but its supporting structure is unsound. Options for solving this problem range in cost from £400,000 to prop it up to £4m to completely restore the buildings, gardens and memorial.

Mr Morphew said the latter option would give the memorial and gardens an expected lifespan of 100 years, rather than 10 years provided by the cheaper option.

“It's not a quick-fix, it will be a proper job. We're going to do it once and do it right.

“I made a promise we were not going to make any announcements until we were confident there was no question about our ability to deliver. My personal credibility and that of the administrations is utterly on the line here.”

Last week former BBC foreign correspondent and ex-MP Martin Bell was critical about the memorial's condition, and said: “To go to a war memorial in a state like that you would have to go to Iraq.”

Last night he said he was pleased that restoration work would now take place. “It's most welcome and I'm delighted. I can't think of a better cause.”

Roy Hill, acting chairman of the Royal British Legion's Norwich branch, said: “It's exactly what the Legion has been pushing for. The memorial has been a disgrace and it's nice to see something's going to be done at last.”

Brian McClintock, vice-chairman of the Norwich branch of the Combined Services Association, said: “Everybody in Norwich should be pleased at what we have been told, especially ex-servicemen and those currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

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