Work on new Norwich Asda site to start next year, after city council gives it the go-ahead

Bosses at Asda have revealed they plan to start work on a new �122m development in Norwich next year, after city councillors granted permission for the scheme.

Less than three months after rejecting a proposal for a superstore at the former Bally Shoe Factory site, members of Norwich City Council's planning committee yesterday voted seven to five in favour of the plans.

The plans for the 5,796 sq m Asda superstore also include a gym, pub, community centre, 334-space car park and other shops at the derelict site on Hall Road, Tuckswood.

Developers say the scheme will create up to 300 jobs in the superstore and about 100 elsewhere in the scheme and council officers had recommended approval, despite the scheme being against the council's own policies.

The plans which were approved were identical to those which were rejected by the committee in September, when the application was turned down by five votes to four.

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Following the last decision, in a poll organised by the Norwich Evening News, nearly four in five people said councillors had got one of the city's biggest planning decisions for years wrong.

Almost 1,000 readers had their say in just four days, with 79pc saying that proposals for a the development near Tuckswood should have been given the go-ahead.

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Last time around, the Green councillors on the committee, and Liberal Democrat Caroline Ackroyd voted to refuse it, with the four votes by the Labour councillors present not enough to stop the plans being turned down.

This time, Mrs Ackroyd, who represents Eaton, was one of those who voted in favour. She said: 'My decision to change the way I am voting is a reluctant one. I had hoped Asda would come back with a better proposal, but I have thought long and hard about this over two months. It is not an easy decision to come to and I do not change my mind easily.'

But she said she was voting in favour because she understood that people in the area needed to see something done with the site.

Mike Sands, Labour councillor for Bowthorpe, said: 'Clearly, this development represents an opportunity that Norwich would be foolish to turn down.'

He welcomed the jobs which would be created and the boost that would bring to the local economy, while Paul Kendrick, Labour councillor for Catton Grove, said: 'While this is not a perfect application, it is in the interests of Norwich city to grant planning permission.

'I live in Boundary Road where there's an Asda in the same road and I know the impact that has had on the Mile Cross community. A lot of people work there and a lot of low paid people are able to buy nutritious food for less than �20 a week.'

But Neil Blunt, Green city councillor for Wensum ward, questioned how many jobs would actually be created. He said: 'We simply don't know enough about the basis of this employment and whether we are letting it go through with jobs that are quite spurious.

'It's okay us talking about 300 jobs if they are new to the city, but if they are borrowed or stolen from elsewhere, it's not new jobs at all.'

Speaking afterwards, a spokesman for Asda said they could calculate the jobs - 300 at the store and a further 125 at the other uses on the site and in the construction supply chain - through experience at similar sized stores the supermarket giant has opened.

He said: 'These jobs represent new job opportunities and will be very real for the hundreds of local people that will apply for them.

'There will be a range of roles available at the new store including warehouse, security, customer service and specialist roles in our bakery and fresh counters.

'We will work with Jobcentre Plus and Remploy to target job opportunities into the south Norwich area - we would expect to recruit most of our colleagues from within a two to three mile radius of our store.'

He added the aim was to start work on the site next year. With the Greens having previously questioned whether Asda will pay a Living Wage, he said the company did pay above the minimum wage.

But Claire Stephenson, leader of the Green group at the city council, said: 'I think the city has missed an opportunity, because a better scheme could have been got out of Asda, but now that won't happen.

'I am disappointed that the application was passed by the planning committee because it was identical to the one which was previously refused.

'There doesn't seem to have been any justification for the claims over the number of jobs which would be created, so I think it's a bit of a gamble when what we need are secure, sustainable jobs and affordable housing.

'The application clearly failed on policy grounds and should not have been passed. When you deal with planning applications you need to follow planning policy. That's Labour's own policy and yet they have chosen to ignore it.

'One of the disadvantages of the decision is that it could appear to set a precedent. The policy hasn't changed, so I would hope councillors and council officers in the future can stick to that policy.'

However, Brenda Arthur, leader of the council, welcomed the approval. She said: 'I am pleased for the people of Lakenham and Tuckswood and the building industry for the jobs this will bring to the area and the boost it will bring to the local economy.

'I could not predetermine the way people voted on the committee, but I'm pleased they made the choice they did.'

The reasons given by the councillors for turning down the application previously was that it was too dominant for a district centre, the plans did not make best use of a brownfield site, protected trees would be removed, pedestrian access was not good enough and the car park was too dominant.

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