Windows row demonstrates Norwich City Council can take a stand - so why not over Anglia Square?
PUBLISHED: 09:59 30 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:19 30 September 2019
The landlord of 13, Magdalen Street in Norwich, a listed three-storey property which houses a shop and two floors of multiple occupancy, recently replaced the upper floor sash windows with PVC-u casement frames.
Norwich City Council has taken enforcement action to have the windows replaced with wooden sash windows in keeping with the style of the property.
The owner's riposte, according to the EDP (September 19, 2019) is that the work was done four years ago and should therefore be immune to enforcement action; that the street already looks dirty and needs restoration; that wooden windows are too expensive; and that other people have also used PVC windows.
It is interesting to follow these arguments, especially as the building in question is in Magdalen Street not far from the proposed Anglia Square development which will be considered at a public inquiry in January.
First, the argument that the work was done four years ago and should therefore be overlooked implies that, if a transgression happened long enough ago, we should all accept it.
Most people realise that the original Anglia Square - which, of course, was never completed - has been a disaster for the area. But does that justify the new proposals that are even more out of harmony with an area of low height and low density?
The proposed 1,200 flats and 20 storey tower block is like an alien form plonked down in the historic Over-the-Water area with no relationship to the character of the local streets or vernacular styles.
Anglia Square was and, in its proposed new form, will continue to be a separate place having no relationship with the rest of Norwich. It could be built anywhere.
Second, that the area is run down and needs renewal should be no argument for imposing this development on what is recognised as a poorer area of Norwich.
Only 10pc of the homes will be affordable out of a total 1,200. Moreover, communities in need of upgrading need the best, not the worst that can be offered.
The Goldsmith Street housing development shows that the city council is more than able to recognise and implement high quality social housing that fits into its environment.
Goldsmith Street provides 105 affordable and sustainable flats and houses and has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize. Congratulations to the city council for this innovative and attractive development.
The third argument - that if other people have already transgressed the rules, then the rule doesn't hold - cannot be supported in other areas of life.
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Other people steal so it's allowable? Other people park on yellow lines so it's allowable? We've been burning fossil fuel for a couple of centuries so it's okay to go on doing it?
It's the argument of the school playground - please Miss, she or he did it first.
The original Anglia Square development ruined the area and we should now be looking at returning it to the scale and character that we have lost.
The St Mary's development opposite side of St Crispin's roundabout will demonstrate how a new development can fit in to its locality.
Lastly, the argument that it is too expensive to do anything else needs challenging with an independent assessment. It is notable that a similar brownfield site (that between Barrack Street and the river) has permission for a well-designed and much less dense development.
As for the threat that nothing will happen unless this proposal is approved, does that justify a density of 275 dwellings per hectare? The London Plan recommends a density of 60-70 dwellings per hectare. What exactly are the developers trying to do here - apart from maximise their profits?
It is heartening to see the city council enforcing its own rules about windows in a conservation area.
Magdalen Street has long been admired and was the subject of an award-winning Civic Trust renovation scheme by the architect Misha Black in 1959.
The unnecessary severing of the street by the Ring Road flyover was a travesty that may yet be corrected - and could indeed be a condition for any acceptable Anglia Square development.
But if sash windows on a listed building at one end of Magdalen Street are important and if rehousing people in modern high-quality buildings that fit in with the surrounding height and density is the objective - why is this monstrosity even being considered?
Look at the gentle curve of the east side Magdalen Street with its two and three storey gabled houses and occasional Victorian and Georgian properties and then look at what Anglia Square will present on the other side of the street: the rule book seems to have been thrown out of the window.
Anglia Square needs development and that development needs to provide homes that fit in with the local community and the local environment.
The extremely high density and out-of-character proposal approved by the council provides neither. Let us hope that the forthcoming public inquiry will lead to a rethink.