Castle Quarter architect in warning over Norwich's future

The plans for Anglia Square, which will now be subject to a planning inquiry. Photo: Weston Homes

A High Court hearing will settle whether the redevelopment of Anglia Square can take place. - Credit: Weston Homes

The architect behind Norwich's Castle Quarter and the revamped market has said the city risks losing its character unless better consideration is given to which developments are acceptable.

And Michael Innes has branded the mooted Western Link as "an old idea" which should be scrapped.

Mr Innes, former president of the Norfolk Association of Architects, said public debate is needed over the sort of schemes which are built in the city - and whether the goal is to profit developers or benefit the public.

Michael Innes

Michael Innes - Credit: Archant

Mr Innes, who lives in Thorpe, has warned rushing into developments risks "mistake, the waste of much money and the planet’s future" amid climate change.

Mr Innes, 90, pointed to how the Castle Mall development, now known as Castle Quarter, was decades in the pipeline and the city should not settle for "easy fixes".

He was highly critical of the proposed Anglia Square development - the fate of which will be settled at the High Court after secretary of state Robert Jenrick rejected a recommendation from a planning inspector to allow the £271m scheme.

That proposal, which Norwich City Council's planning committee had granted permission for in 2018 , includes more than 1,200 new homes, including within a 20-storey tower.

It also includes a hotel, cinema, car parks and new shops.

But Mr Innes said: "Its design concept is of a type more suited to the East End of London.

Most Read

"If built, it would do damage to the character of Norwich ‘Over the Water’, the Cathedral and Kett’s views over the city: rather more so than was done back in the days of the stationery office, which at least ‘massed’ with the shoe factories, printing and the general weight of the neighbourhood."

Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Anglia Square. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

He said the survival of historic Norwich's character had an inherent commercial, as well as cultural, value, which should be protected.

Mr Innes said: "Husband that character: treat it with care until something that is better is on offer.

"The ‘city’s character’ is likely to get to be more valuable as the function of the city changes in the future.

"Any plans for change in Norwich should aim for such an enhancement and a glib easy fix here for a developer shouldn’t be allowed to be a precedent."

He said it had taken from the 1970s to the 1990s to get the right scheme for what ended up being his Castle Mall project.

Construction of Castle Mall in March 1990. Photo: Archant library

Construction of Castle Mall in March 1990. Photo: Archant library - Credit: Archant library

Mr Innes said: "In the Mall, now Quarter, palliative investment continues even today and this in the face of current city centre anxieties about retail.

"The appropriateness of the concept for its site encourages it.

"Chapelfield will have a harder time because it was inappropriately placed and over-sized even for yesterday’s retail."

Castle Quarter during COVID19 lock down. All shops are closed except Boots and Poundland which sell

The Castle Quarter during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

He said: "Tourism, recreational and cultural is likely to be the durable and on-going phenomenon.

"It will only be so if we don’t make a mess of local appropriateness and appeal."

Mr Innes also said Norfolk County Council should drop its proposals for the Western Link - the £153m road which would connect the Norwich Northern Distributor Road to the A47.

The council's Conservative-controlled cabinet agreed a 3.9-mile route, to connect the A47 to the Northern Distributor Road in July 2019.

The road would go from the A1067, near the NDR, travelling halfway between Weston Longville and Ringland.

The route of the proposed Norwich Western Link road

The route of the Western Link. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

It would link to the A47 at a new junction at Wood Lane near Honingham, with a 720-metre-long viaduct over the River Wensum.

While the council says it would cut rat-running and businesses have welcomed the potential economic boost, critics including the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Norfolk Wildlife Trust have said it will damage habitats.

When the NDR was originally planned, the idea was to connect it to the A47 to the west of Norwich.

But that was ditched due to the cost of crossing the Wensum Valley, a site of special scientific interest, with Natural England and the Environment Agency raising concerns.

Artist's impression of a viaduct which could carry the Western Link over the River Wensum. Photo: No

Artist's impression of a viaduct which could carry the Western Link over the River Wensum. Photo: Norfolk County Council - Credit: Norfolk County Council

While the council believes the revived scheme can address those concerns, Mr Innes said the "pre-millennium" idea should be abandoned, particularly given climate change.

He said: "An old idea, an easy way out, probably oven-ready.

"A revival should not be allowed at the unprincipled high price of spoiling of the Wensum Valley: land already designated as of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation."

Architect Michael Innes at his home at Thorpe St Andrew.

FLASHBACK: Michael Innes pictured at his home in 2008 in Thorpe St Andrew. - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2008

Michael Innes

One of the founding directors of LSI Architects, Michael Innes is best known for his work on Castle Mall, now known as Castle Quarter.

The construction of the £180m shopping centre in the 1990s was years in the making, with Mr Innes having to overcome challenges around building underground and so close to Norwich Castle.

Other examples of Mr Innes' work include South Norfolk House, the BUPA Hospital at Colney and the refurbishment of Norwich Market.

He took over the 2005 revamp of the historic market after writing to the Norwich Evening News to express his concern at the controversial proposals which had been mooted.