Saturday, May 3, 2014
A decision on whether a new £8.5m literary centre can be built in the centre of Norwich looks set to be made next week, after twice being put on ice at previous meetings.
The proposed revamp of Grade II-listed Gladstone House, in St Giles Street, to create a National Centre for Writing, has proved controversial.
But officers at Norwich City Council are recommending that city councillors give it the go-ahead when they meet on Thursday.
Writers’ Centre Norwich, which is behind the plans, says it would establish a world-class centre for literary study, translation and performance.
The plan includes a new 120-seat auditorium for book readings in the garden of the house, which was built in the late 18th century. It would also see the later rear annexe kncoked down, with apartments built for a writer and translator in residence.
Teaching spaces, a private basement bar and a cafe also form part of the proposals.
The building would be leased free of charge to the centre by Norwich City Council, which would retain ownership, and the work would be funded by a £3m Arts Council grant, smaller contributions from Norfolk County Council, the University of East Anglia, which is a partner, and trusts and foundations.
The remainder of the cost will need to be raised before work could start.
But objectors say the work proposed would damage the building, and obscure its south facade, while heritage groups have also raised concerns at the adaptations.
English Heritage says it has concerns over “harmful elements” to Gladstone House, which it wanted to see addressed, while the Georgian Group wants it turned down.
The Friends of Gladstone House are also worried about the changes which will be made, the size of the auditorium and the access to the building, while the Norwich Society, while supportive of the project, says a redesign of the scheme is needed.
But Chris Gribble, chief executive of Writers’ Centre Norwich, has previously said it would build on Norwich’s status as the UK’s first Unesco City of Literature.
He said: “This will be an important piece of cultural infrastructure for the city. It will bring money into the city and raise our profile on the national and international stage, and give people access to the best writers and storytellers in the world.”
A decision was due to be made in March, but was postponed after a website glitch meant people could not comment on the plans.
And, when the scheme was due to come before councillors last month, a map mix-up meant the wrong houses were served with notice of the application, so that homes backing on to the site were not told. That meant a decision was, once again, postponed.
However, the proposals are now due to come before members of the city council’s planning committee on Thursday, with officers recommending approval.
They state, in the report which will come before councillors, that: “The principle of the conversion is considered to be acceptable with notable benefits in terms of strengthening the cultural status of Norwich and promoting development that supports the arts and educational provision.”
Officers acknowledge a “certain degree of harm” will be done to the listed building.
• What do you think of the plans? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.