Watchdog backs call for government to have final say on Anglia Square revamp if city councillors say yes
- Credit: Weston Homes
A call for the government to make the final decision if councillors grant permission for the £271m Anglia Square revamp has been backed by civic watchdog the Norwich Society.
Officers at Norwich City Council are recommending the planning committee gives the scheme the go-ahead when they meet at City Hall on Thursday, December 6.
The plans from Weston Homes, along with landowner Columbia Threadneedle, would see buildings in the shopping complex replaced with new blocks, including 1,234 new homes, a leisure quarter with a cinema, car parks, a 20-storey tower block and a new home for Surrey Chapel.
Council officers say that the proposal is 'finely balanced'.
But they are recommending approval, saying it delivers on a 'significant number of planning objectives and policies for the site, while the level of economic and social benefits, would 'outweigh' the harm of the development on the setting of historic landmarks.
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Historic England objected to the scheme because of the impact it - and the 20 storey tower - would have on the city's historic character.
The national body has asked for the issue to be called in by the Secretary of State for a final decision, if permission is given.
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And the Norwich Society has backed that call in a letter to secretary of state James Brokenshire.
In the letter Paul Burall, vice-chair of the society's strategic planning and transport committee, said: 'We concur with the opinion of Historic England, with the added concern that damaging the uniqueness of the city will also damage its long-term economic prospects, as we know that many of the essential skilled and professional workers who have moved here have done so at least in part because of the distinctive character of the city.
'The officers' committee report describes their recommendation for approval as 'finely balanced' and we believe that, if the council approves the application, a public enquiry by an independent inspector is the only way to ensure that the application is properly scrutinised and a fair decision arrived at.'
The society is also a signatory to an open letter sent to councillors which urges them to reject the application.
The Cathedral Magdalen and St Augustine's Forum has also written to councillors asking them to say no.
Open letter to city councillors from Norwich Society and other organisations
The Anglia Square planning application presents the most serious threat to the character and long-term economy of Norwich for many years.
If approved, it would overwhelm the neighbouring area; intrude into the skyline, competing with the Cathedral spire; and begin to turn Norwich into yet another clone city, making it much less attractive for the entrepreneurs and professional staff who are vital to the economy and, demonstrably, are often looking for a special place to live and work.
We believe that a more imaginative, appropriate and aspirational design approach should be sought that would bring exemplar modern architecture to the city to complement the historic core and provide the quality homes and commercial development that Norwich needs in order to thrive.
As Historic England has pointed out, Norwich is a great historic city that provides a rich and stimulating theatre for contemporary life and fertile ground for creative and innovative businesses, attracting tourism and making it a wonderful place in which to live.
This unique character should not be undermined by a short-term response to the understandable desire to develop what has long been an eyesore site.
The proposed scheme, while providing a large number of residential units, fails to address the particular housing needs of the local area or build on the special economy of the neighbouring area that is based on independent shops and restaurants and a growing creative hub.
The application proposes cramming 1250 dwellings, a substantial number of shops, a 200-bed hotel and a 600-space car park onto just 4.5 hectares, producing a residential density well in excess of the recommended density for an urban area in London.
This level of density with a 20-storey tower and the mass of the 12-storey linear blocks overshadowing the surrounding streets combined with the poor 'anywhere' architecture of the proposals is totally unsuited to historic central Norwich and will destroy part of the character that makes the city so attractive to incoming professionals and entrepreneurs, especially those in the creative industries that are so vital to the city's future.
Approval of the application would send a signal that Norwich is open to almost any development, however inappropriate.
Weston Homes has only considered one type of development and failed to explore other viable alternatives more suited to Norwich. We suggest that Norwich can change and grow without damaging the essential character that makes it so special.
We urge the city council to reject this application and, just as importantly, to work proactively with the landowner and local people and organisations to develop proposals for the regeneration of Anglia Square that will mark Norwich out as a special place with high-quality contemporary architecture matching its rich historic setting.
Such a development could provide the homes and facilities that local people need while attracting new businesses and residents by emphasising that the City combines the best of the old and the new to provide a high quality of life with a forward-looking economy.
We urge Norwich City Council to reject this application and demand better for the city and not foist on Norwich a development that meets the 'anything is better than nothing' opinion but that will be regretted in the years ahead.
Signed by the following organisations and individuals
Vanessa Trevelyan (chair, Norwich Society)
Jon Boon (architect)
Paul Burall (former vice-chair, Town & Country Planning Association and chair, Inspire East)
John Gordon-Saker (Chief Executive, Open)
Simeon Jackson (former City Councillor)
Michael Jordan (former Director of Environment, Hounslow Council)
Gail Mayhew (chair, Cathedral Magdalen & St Augustine's Forum)
Rodney Mayson (chair, Cathedral Residents Association)
Gillian McArthur (McArthurTring Architects)
Stuart McLaren (secretary, St Augustine's Community Together Residents' Association)
John Nortcliffe (Architect & Head of Commercial, Hudson Architects)
Chris Pank (Panks Ltd)
Neil Roberts (retired planning inspector)
Karl Sandall (The TaxAssist Direct Group Ltd)
Jo Stafford (Print to the People)
Paul Watson (retired development surveyor)
Open letter sent to councillors from the Cathedral Magdalen & St Augustine's Forum
On Thursday, December 6, the planning committee of Norwich City Council will be asked to make a decision on Weston Homes/Columbia Threadneedle proposal for Anglia Square.
The planning arguments have been well rehearsed and you will be aware of the very high level of adverse comment that the scheme has generated within the North City Centre area.
As the local neighbourhood forum steering group we were approached by a multiplicity of individuals and organisations who were distressed at the nature of the development being put forward by the developers.
Their concern was both at the negative impact the scheme architecturally would have on the city, and at the equally negative impacts it would produce on lives and on their businesses. Norwich Society analysis indicates that as planned the scheme will produce some of the densest urbanism anywhere in the UK.
A very large number of these individuals and businesses are young people - who had either decided not to leave Norwich at all and make a career here, or who had recently moved here, attracted by the ability to live and work locally; the affordability of both business space to set up on their own account, and the possibility - unheard of in London and other cities - to live in a house in close proximity of the centre.
This is the essence of NR3 - and it has been completely misunderstood, or taken for granted by the present development proposal.
Norwich is beginning to make a name for itself as a creative place where artists and makers can find appropriate places to nurture their businesses and grow.
Anglia Square is currently one of those places, but if it is lost to a bland, overbearing commercial development this burgeoning creative economy will be severely threatened and put onto a back foot something that is becoming a special characteristic of Norwich.
People are now realising that this 'anywhere' commercial architecture which we see in countless cities and towns across the country, heavily driven by Help-to-Buy funding, is not good enough; are regretting allowing it and would like to turn the clock back - so why is Norwich about to make the same mistake?
We assisted the community turn their ideas into an alternative schematic masterplan for North Central Norwich. This shows a contextually sensitive approach appropriate to the scale of this part of the city and its heritage context.
It also incorporates a significant quantity of retail, residential and parking to be a viable commercial proposal. The proposition further set out to repair the street scape in a way that would regenerate the wider area and provide a new dynamic for existing retail on Magdalen and St Augustine's Streets through greater street connectivity.
The community will reclaim access to Gildencroft Park and there will be provision for significant community infrastructure - planning for a nursery school and an integrated health centre in an accessible location both for the immediate community and the wider Norwich North catchment area arriving by bus or on foot.
Critically, the scheme would provide make / work / sell space for the creative community plus a significant arts venue which would operate a driver of regeneration for the wider North City area.
We are aware that the scheme before the planning committee is looking for investment of around £12.6M from Homes England. This is in addition to a publicly stated intention of the developers to seek a total exemption from the Community Infrastructure Levy.
This public contribution is leverage which should require rigorous scrutiny on the public benefits gained - we suggest that the scheme as it presently stands creates a range of dis-benefits for the city which outweigh benefit accruing from inappropriate development of the site .
The encouragement of the creative, cultural and digital industries is one of the key priorities of the government's Industrial Strategy.
This scheme will undermine rather than enhance Norwich's position within this sector. We would ask you to consider whether this represents good value for a substantial investment of public money, when it will effectively neutralise the developing creative industry economy in North Central Norwich, and will undermine Norwich's attractiveness as a business and visitor destination.
We urge you to turn down the present application. Instead to ask for a redevelopment of Anglia Square that operates as a vanguard scheme for the creative, cultural and tech industries and for high quality development that also delivers social infrastructure and opportunity for the future vitality of the north city area community.
Signed Gail Mayhew, chair of Cathedral Magdalen & St Augustine's Forum