Fears planning shake-up will threaten Norwich city centre

Gentleman's Walk in Norwich. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY.

Fears have been raised over a government move to make it easier to turn shops into homes. - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

The future of Norwich city centre would be threatened by a government planning shake-up making it easier for shops to be turned into homes.

That is the warning issued by council officers and councillors at Norwich City Council, who have "significant concerns" over a government white paper which proposed changes to the planning system.

One proposal would mean planning permission would not be needed to turn shops into housing.

Instead prior approval would be needed, which limits the powers councils have to reject the change of use.

At a meeting of the city council's sustainable development panel on Thursday, councillors agreed to tell the government they were against the mooted changes.

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Joy Brown, senior planning officer at City Hall, said: "I have got significant concerns with the proposal. I am of the view that the uncontrolled and piecemeal loss of town centre uses will be a huge threat to the future vitality and vibrancy of our high street.

"It will potentially result in a reduction, rather than an increase, in footfall in certain areas."

A recent study into Norwich’s economy found similar changes making it easier to turn offices into housing had meant almost a third of the city's offices had been lost.

St Stephens Towers, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

A number of former offices have been turned into housing. - Credit: Archant

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The council is responding to the consultation to say it does not support the mooted changes.

They say, if changes are brought in, permitted development should not apply in conservation areas, such as the city centre.

The council says the focus should be on encouraging housing at upper floor levels, while retaining ground floor units.

Officers said: "Extending permitted development rights will put the future of our high streets into the hands of the market; but unfortunately the market does not have wider public benefits in mind."

Norwich city councillor Mike Stonard. Pic: Archant.

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth. - Credit: Archant

Mike Stonard, Labour cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, said: "I think we all have huge concerns over the white paper. I know there are shared cross-party concerns."

The government has said the proposals will help tackle the housing shortage and give high streets a new lease of life.

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