Architect's bold plan for City Hall

MARK NICHOLLS Radical plans that could transform the future of City Hall in Norwich are set to be unveiled at an exhibition tomorrow night. They are the idea of Norfolk architect Michael Innes who believes City Hall is in need of a makeover, yet one that would still house Norwich City Council staff and preserve the grand façade of the structure.

MARK NICHOLLS

Radical plans that could transform the future of City Hall in Norwich are set to be unveiled at an exhibition tomorrow night.

They are the idea of Norfolk architect Michael Innes who believes City Hall is in need of a makeover, yet one that would still house Norwich City Council staff and preserve the grand façade of the structure.

The proposals are set to be discussed at an exhibition and presentation at the Assembly House, Norwich, from 6.30pm.

Mr Innes said: "The aim of this meeting is to launch a public debate. A number of financial pressures are growing on this fine city-centre building, on the council that runs it and on the area around it and these pressures will, sooner rather than later, require action.

"The exhibition and presentation of design concepts explore the options for a civic makeover of City Hall and the space around it and argues that this building is more than sustainable as the heart of local government in Norwich."

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The initiative is being sponsored by the Norfolk Association of Architects (NAA) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) East with MPs, councillors and other interested parties invited, along with the public.

It is not the first time the future of the 1930s Grade II* category building has been debated. In October 2005, there were suggestions that due to soaring running costs the council may have to move to a new site with City Hall turned into a hotel or concert hall.

Mr Innes argues that City Hall does need to change because it is "woefully unsuited to modern office purposes".

He said only about a third of the total area is available as useful office space while the remaining two-thirds still require maintenance, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.

He claims that investment in the existing site would be profitable with benefits worth £2m a year to be made from the thoughtful renovation of City Hall and its environs. These could include a well insulated and planted landscaped roof as a covering for a new element of the extensive ground floor with City Hall made a friendlier and more welcoming building for staff and the public.

"None of the proposed changes will compromise the familiar public character of City Hall. This important listed building will continue to speak as the complement at the west end to Norwich Castle at the east," added Mr Innes.

NAA president Nicholas Hills said: "The council of the NAA believes that these ideas have a persuasive logic of affordability and sustain-ability, and therefore merit the earliest discussion."

City council leader Steve Morphew said he looked forward to seeing what Mr Innes was suggesting.