'Marmite' plans for Norwich's Anglia Square given approval, but government could have final say
PUBLISHED: 06:30 07 December 2018 | UPDATED: 11:54 07 December 2018
The developer behind the £271m Anglia Square revamp has likened the scheme to Marmite - conceding that some people will hate it.
But Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes, has insisted he is committed to delivering the homes at the former shopping complex.
Speaking after Norwich City Council granted permission, he said he was “delighted” and said it would be “one of the biggest urban renewal projects outside of Greater London”.
He said: “We are delighted that the planning committee and the people and businesses of Norwich have embraced and supported our plans for Anglia Square.
“Anglia Square is a major £300m urban renewal project which will position Norwich for the future and provide a new mixed use destination for the city.
“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.”
The scheme was granted permission by seven votes to five by members of the planning committee, but it could yet be overturned if the secretary of state were to conclude the wrong decision was made.
While the city council has said yes, after a meeting which lasted more than six hours, there will now be a wait to see whether the decision will be called-in by the government.
National body Historic England has requested that it is, which could trigger a planning inquiry and lead to the final decision being made by communities secretary James Brokenshire.
Developer Weston Homes, with investment firm Columbia Threadneedle, had 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.
But the city council 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.
Objectors included Historic England, the Norwich Society and the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. They argued the scheme would damage people’s appreciation of the Norman castle, the medieval cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, City Hall and medieval churches.
Historic England says the repercussions of the yes vote are potentially of “national significance”, which is why it has asked for the government to consider calling-in the decision.
If that happens, then there could be a planning inquiry, at the end of which a recommendation would be made to communities secretary to rule on whether permission should be granted. But civil servants could also decide there is no need, as the right decision was made.
John Neale from Historic England, spoke at yesterday’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”. Afterwards, he said he hoped the decision would be called-in and rejected.
Former Liberal Democrat Norwich City Council leader Ian Couzens was another objector. He 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.”
Mancroft Green city councillor Martin Schmierer, who is Lord Mayor of Norwich, said the scheme was an “abomination”.
Applicant Mr Weston told the meeting he accepted the scheme was controversial - and likened it to Marmite in that some would love it and some would hate it.
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.”
Councillors asked questions about the affordable housing - the scheme’s proposed 120 affordable homes is below City Hall’s target and queried how the developer has signalled it intends to seek an exemption from the community infrastructure levy - to make the scheme viable.
Lib Dem James Wright said the amount of affordable housing was “derisory”, while Labour’s Hugo Malik said; “I keep hearing it’s now or never. It definitely should not be now and should never be the scheme in front of us.”
But Labour committee chairman, who was one of the seven who voted for, said: “I am not sure it’s the best development we will ever see in the city, but I think it’s the right development for Anglia Square.”
City Hall officers had recommended approval for the scheme.
They had said, although the development and the tower would cause harm, a “compelling case” had been made, with “economic and social benefits” for the city.