New £7m two-storey church and café to be built after major blaze
A two-storey church complete with a café and nursery will be built in Norwich, allowing its congregation to finally return home 15 years after a devastating blaze.
In February 2006, a lightning strike saw fire rip through the Mount Zion Family Life Centre in Heartsease Lane.
Since then, the Norwich Family Life Church, now known as the Soul Church, has stayed in a temporary home on Mason Road, off Mile Cross Lane.
But the church community has long said they hoped to one day return to their former home - and that dream has now become reality.
Norwich City Council has given the go-ahead for a £7m church with a 1,038-seat auditorium, office space, drop-in work hub, café, play barn, nursery and respite facility to be built on land off Heartsease Lane.
Pastor Jon Norman said: "We are over the moon.
"The tag line 'we are coming home' is what we have said for just over two years, since we started this project.
"It's the start of the home coming after the tragic fire in 2006. The thought of Soul Church being back on the Heartsease and Plumstead estate is a symbol of hope to me.
"We are going to rebuild from the ashes."
He said they hoped to break ground on the development in 2020, and had a goal of being up and running in 2021, 15 years after the fire.
As he approved the plans, city council planning officer Robert Webb said the size of the place of worship meant it would have ideally been located in the city centre.
"However, regard has been had to the previous use of the land, and its occupation by the church, together with the close ties the church has with the Heartsease community," he said, adding that it would deliver a "significant new community facility".
As the plans moved through the planning process there were few objections, with Sport England saying evidence that the land was formerly used as a sports pitch was mitigated by the fact that the new building would provide facilities for sport and physical activity.
Historic England said the development sits within a former prisoner of war camp, which had previously been used as a military training area.