'The final nail in the coffin' - reaction as Anglia Square plan scrapped
- Credit: Archant
The decision by Weston Homes to scrap its legal challenge over its rejected £271m revamp of Anglia Square has been welcomed as a chance to forge a new scheme the community can support.
The developer had been due to challenge the decision by local government secretary Robert Jenrick to block the scheme, which included a 20-storey tower, in the High Court next month.
But instead, Weston Homes chairman and chief executive Bob Weston and site owner Columbia Threadneedle say they will go back to the drawing board and collaborate - including with organisations which objected - to come up with a new plan.
Alan Waters, Labour leader of Norwich City Council, said he hoped that move would be greeted with "an open mind", but not all critics of the previous scheme were convinced.
Mr Waters said: "I am very pleased that Weston Homes are going to come back with revised proposals and will engage with everyone who is interested in the redevelopment of Anglia Square.
"I also think it sends a strong message about them seeing Norwich as a good place to invest in, which is in addition to Aviva moving staff back into the city centre and the East Norwich development.
"I think public sentiment is that building something positive there is to be welcomed and this is a really good opportunity to bring forward fresh proposals and have a discussion, which I am hoping people will approach with an open mind."
Norwich City Council spent more than £350,000 on lawyers for the four-week public inquiry, but Mr Waters refuted the suggestion that had been money wasted.
He said: "The planning inspector had supported the planning committee's decision, so I think that was vindication. It wasn't wasted."
And Mr Waters said he was confident the £15m from Homes England earmarked to help pay for the demolition and clearance of the Anglia Square site would not be lost.
The dropping of the legal challenge was welcomed by two of the heritage watchdogs who had objected.
John Neale, head of development advice for Historic England said: “We welcome this decision by Weston Homes and look forward to working positively and collaboratively with Weston Homes, Homes England, Norwich City Council and other stakeholders to help develop proposals which renew Anglia Square and its surroundings in a way which supports the social and economic life of Norwich, while also repairing and enhancing its exceptional historic character.”
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage, which had raised concerns about the previous application's impact on the city's heritage, welcomed the developer's decision to scrap the legal challenge.
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She said: "We salute this decision from Weston Homes to withdraw from the High Court challenge, and to listen to our concerns and those of the local community, Historic England and the secretary of state.
"We welcome their pledge to reset their highly controversial 20 storey tower scheme, and to collaborate on fresh proposals.
"SAVE looks forward to seeing more appropriate, much lower scale plans coming forward, that fit with the grain and character of Norwich as a magnificent historic city."
But Andrew Boswell, former Green city and county councillor, who gave evidence at the public inquiry on behalf of Norwich Cycling Campaign, said Weston Homes could find it difficult to build bridges with objectors.
Mr Boswell said: "It is good news that the legal challenge has been dropped, but I am not convinced Weston Homes are going to be very welcome in Norwich.
"What is interesting is what the council can do next. I think they have learned a big lesson from this.
"They have come back with a new policy for that area, but I think that needs to be made stronger, in terms of climate change and air quality issues.
"It's clear that any new development must be based around walking and cycling, keeping traffic out and not encouraging vehicles into the area."
Gail Mayhew, from the Cathedral, Magdalen and St Augustine's Forum, said it was "fantastic news" and she would welcome more community involvement in formulating new plans.
She said: "I think they [Weston Homes] have clearly had a very strong message, in line with the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which I was involved with, that it is important to involve local people in such schemes.
"It very much backs up that the important thing to get quality development to solve our housing crisis and bring up our towns and cities is to start locally.
"The best quality experts and designers need to be brought in, listening to the community, who have the local knowledge for a positive and constructive dialogue."
Martin Schmierer, whose Mancroft ward includes Anglia Square, said: "This final nail in the coffin of a totally inappropriate development in historic Norwich is brilliant news.
"The incredibly massive tower block that was proposed would have squashed the heart of a vibrant and historic part of Norwich that needs sensitive and collaborative development.
"It would also have choked Norwich’s streets and taken us in the wrong direction on the climate emergency with 1,000 more cars parked there.
"A truly collaborative plan for redeveloping Anglia Square must be grounded in what local people want and need, and must respect Norwich's heritage and unique character, rather than trampling all over these."
And Labour county councillor Danny Douglas said: "As county councillor for the area, I am calling for a new masterplan for the area that increases the amount of social housing, decreases the amount of retail and to bury the Magdalen Street flyover."
James Wright, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at City Hall, said: "There is an opportunity now to develop a proposal that works in the long term interests of the city, providing much needed affordable homes and respecting our history."