Anglia Square developers pledge High Court fight and blast minister for ‘siding with NIMBY brigade’
- Credit: Weston Homes
The future of Anglia Square could be set for a High Court showdown after the developers vowed to fight the secretary of state after he rejected the £271m revamp.
And Weston Homes launched a stinging attack on the government, after local government secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday issued his decision on one of the most contentious – and largest – developments in Norwich for decades.
Despite a planning inspector saying the scheme should be permitted, Mr Jenrick refused to grant planning permission for the shopping centre redevelopment.
That was welcomed by campaigners who have battled to stop the scheme, but Weston Homes, which was behind the plans, said they would fight the decision in the High Court.
Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes, said: “We intend to fight Robert Jenrick’s undemocratic and commercially unjustified decision in the High Court and seek to get his ruling overturned.
“The secretary of state has gone against local democracy and the recommendations of a public inquiry, choosing to side with the NIMBY brigade who would rather see Norwich city centre die than support a future for the city’s economy.
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“How does our prime minister Boris Johnson, who is very vocal that housebuilders need to ‘build, build, build’ in order to hit the government’s housing delivery target of 300,000 homes justify this anti-urban-renewal and anti-housebuilder descision?
“I thought our PM liked to position himself as ‘Boz-the-Builder’, instead his short-sighted minister is setting the PM up as the enemy of the housebuilding industry.
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“The message it sends out to all housebuilders is – ‘don’t invest, don’t make planning applications, don’t plan for the future because this Conservative government doesn’t support housing or the economy.”
Plans for the shopping centre, lodged by Columbia Threadneedle and Weston Homes, had been approved by Norwich City Council’s planning committee in 2018.
Those plans include more than 1,200 new homes, including within a 20-storey tower, a hotel, cinema, car parks and new shops.
But the proposals attracted fierce criticism, due to the massing and height and its impact on the historic city skyscape, including on Norwich Cathedral.
While City Hall officers had conceded that the revamp scheme would cause harm, they had said that was outweighed by social and economic benefits.
The council’s planning committee voted in favour, by seven votes to five.
However, the matter was called in by the government at the request of opponents, including heritage watchdog Historic England.
That call-in triggered a four week planning inquiry. Historic England, SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Norwich Society, the Norwich Cycling Campaign, and the Cathedral Magdalen and St Augustine’s Forum were among objectors.
After a four week public inquiry at City Hall earlier this year, planning inspector Dave Prentis recommended that the scheme should go ahead, but Mr Jenrick said no.
He said the massing of the individual blocks and the tower, and the extent to which the height and mass of the proposal would be “uncharacteristic” in the Norwich City Centre Conservation Area and did not fit with policy.
Mr Jenrick said that the benefits of the scheme were not sufficient to outbalance the identified ‘less than substantial’ harm to heritage assets.
Mr Weston said: “At a time of extreme economic hardship and Norwich on the edge of a deep recession the secretary of state has chosen to refuse a massive investment opportunity for the city.
“The decision also flies-in-the-face of Government policy on housing delivery and encouraging brownfield-land regeneration in order to protect the greenbelt.”
But Mr Weston said his company remained committed to the scheme. He said: “We have invested a huge amount of time and effort to prepare these proposals and we have also continuously listened to comments on the scheme. We substantially revised our plans for Anglia Square in order to respond to feedback provided by the council, the public, statutory consultees, and local stakeholders.
“Weston Homes is a highly successful housebuilder of over 30 years standing and we have the track record and financial stature to deliver on our proposals.”
However, the refusal had been hailed by campaigners who battled to stop it.
Henrietta Billings, on behalf of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, added: “From the outset, SAVE asserted that if built, the high-density, high-rise blocks and 20-storey tower proposed would have a deeply harmful effect on the character of this magnificent medieval city.”
Norwich Cycling Campaign’s Tony Clarke, said: “We’re extremely grateful the secretary of state has seen the way to not allow this.”