It’s a yes! Anglia Square £271m revamp agreed after fierce six-hour debate
- Credit: Weston Homes
The controversial £271m redevelopment of Norwich's Anglia Square has been approved by city councillors.
The scheme was granted permission by 7 votes to 5 by members of Norwich City Council's planning committee.
But the developers will now have to wait to see whether a final decision will rest with secretary of state James Brokenshire, after objectors triggered a bid to get the issue called in by the government.
Developer Weston Homes, with investment firm Columbia Threadneedle, has applied to demolish the shopping centre, along with the neighbouring Sovereign House.
The buildings would be replaced with new blocks, including 1,234 new homes, a leisure quarter with a cinema, car parks, a 200-bed hotel, the tower block and a new home for Surrey Chapel.
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But the proposal has been controversial. The city council has received 939 comments on the original proposals and the revised plans - which included the tower's height being cut from 25 storeys to 20 storeys.
Of those who submitted comments during the planning process, 767 objected to the plans and 120 supported them.
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Objectors include Historic England, the Norwich Society and the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. They say the scheme would damage people's appreciation of the Norman castle, the medieval cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, City Hall and medieval churches.
Objectors, including John Neale from Historic England, spoke at today's meeting in the council chamber at City Hall to urge councillors to reject the plans.
He said the scheme would be 'profoundly damaging' to Norwich, which he describes as 'one of Europe's great cities'.
Lord Mayor of Norwich Martin Schmierer, speaking in his role as Green city councillor for Mancroft ward, said: 'This scheme is little short of an abomination.' He likened the 20-storey tower to Mount Everest.
Former Norwich North Labour MP Ian Gibson said the 120 affordable homes in the Anglia Square scheme is not enough.
He said the council should be pushing for more.
James Brown, who leads architecture courses at NUA, said: 'It's not acceptable for our city to capitulate to the belief that doing anything is better than doing nothing'.
He said the applicant and city could do better.
Gail Mayhew, chair of the Cathedral Magdalen & St Augustine's Neighbourhood Forum said: 'The proposed scheme disrespects the community which surrounds it. It disrespects Norwich.'
Architect Michael Innes, who designed Castle Mall and oversaw the revamp of Norwich Market, said the scheme would be a 'mistake'.
He said high rise towers had been discredited and said such 'speculative audacity' should be rejected.
Former Liberal Democrat Norwich City Council leader Ian Couzens said: 'If passed, the scheme risks undermining everything we have achieved over so many decades. The credibility of the city is absolutely at stake here.'
Jo Smith, Labour city councillor for Mancroft, says: 'It's agreed that development needs to happen, just not this development. I have spoken to many residents in the doorstep and very few think this meets the need of the community.'
Bob Weston, from applicants Weston Homes told the meeting he accepts the scheme is controversial - and likened it to Marmite.
He said he has built thousands of homes and added: 'I can put my hand on my heart and say we haven't built anything I am not proud of.'
He said it will provide homes he hopes people's children and grandchildren will live in.
He pledged it is deliverable and Weston Homes are contracted to complete the whole scheme.
Chris Ward, from applicant Columbia Threadneedle said the plans are the results of years of work and talks.
Mr Ward said: 'I would like to emphasise it is our intention to maintain its function to serve as a district centre for local residents.'
He said they are committed to supporting current tenants of Anglia Square and working with traders during the construction.
City Hall's head of planning Graham Nelson started the meeting by explaining that should the committee vote in favour, it would only be approval in principle.
That is because Historic England had requested that the matter be considered for a 'call-in' for a final decision by communities secretary James Brokenshire.
It means civil servants would, if the committee grants approval, have to consider whether they think the decision should rest with the council or with the secretary of state.
Officers at City Hall had recommended approval - and the committee agreed to grant it.
Officers said, although the development and the tower would cause harm, a 'compelling case' had been made, with 'economic and social benefits' for the city.
They said, once Anglia Square is revamped and re-opened, there would be 536 to 763 full and part-time jobs in the shops, offices, bars, hotel and so on. There are currently about 200 to 250 jobs there.
The revamp of the complex, which would include the demolition of Sovereign House, would take an estimated eight years to complete.
The developer has said the work will be done in phases.
It also has a separate application in to create 'pop up' units in shipping containers under Magdalen Street flyover, which could be used by displaced retailers during construction work.
Columbia Threadneedle has said all existing tenants will be given the opportunity to agree commercial terms to stay in the new look square.
And they have indicated that they will seek to retain as many as possible of the existing tenants within the scheme, with discussions about Boots, Poundland and Shoe Zone among those which have taken place already.
After the meeting, Mr Weston, said: 'This is one of the biggest urban renewal projects outside of Greater London, bringing striking new buildings, 'Covent Garden' style public spaces, inward investment and job creation.
'The regenerated site will further enhance the local community and compliment the existing city centre.
'We are delighted that the planning committee and the people and businesses of Norwich have embraced and supported our plans for Anglia Square.' But Mr Neale said he hoped the decision would be called-in - and ultimately rejected - by the secretary of state.