Plotting the future of housing in Norwich

A period of growth is on the horizon for Norwich, with 37,000 new homes planned in and around the city by 2026. In the fifth part of a week-long series, we look at development plans in and around the city centre.

Norwich City Council hopes to meet its share of the region's house-building targets by using a patchwork of largely redundant or derelict industrial sites.

A shortlist of more than 70 potential plots has been drafted, with a combined capacity for more than 7,000 homes – although no final decisions have yet been taken as to which will be included in the final plans.

But two of the most significant schemes are closer than most to being realised: A greenfield plot to complete the Three Score development at Bowthorpe, and disused riverside industrial land to the south-east of the city.

The council-owned plot in Bowthorpe has been earmarked for housing since the 1970s, when the first masterplan for its development was drawn up.

The current plan includes 1,200 homes, a care home, a shop and possibly a community hall, plus public open spaces.

Although a previous idea to sell the site to Persimmon fell through as the housing market collapsed, the council has now decided to develop the site itself, along with its new partners at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

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The ground-breaking partnership deal was the first of its kind in the country and resulted in �8m of HCA investment in the city – �5.5m of which has been spent on regeneration projects including the restoration of the War Memorial. The remaining �2.5m was originally intended to kick-start the Bowthorpe development, but could be re-directed to other community projects if the building project sustains itself financially.

No contract has yet been signed, but Taylor Wimpey has been selected as the preferred bidder to build the first 180 homes at the site, along with the initial road infrastructure.

Gwyn Jones, Norwich's growth and development manager, said with the council acting as both landowner and planning authority, the city could share the financial benefits of the project. 'The idea was that the developer would build the first phase and the main spine roads to open the rest of the site up for development,' she said. 'When the money gets generated through the first phase, we will then decide with the partnership how that money will be spent. It is not like if it was in private ownership. Here, we are the landowner, so the benefits we get from the development will go to other regeneration projects around Norwich.'

The development of the Three Score site was agreed in principle in 2008, but a revised outline planning application is due to be made in spring following a public consultation.

Council leader Brenda Arthur said: 'With any deal we broker we have to look at how the community will benefit. We have started consulting as to how that might work at Three Score. We will continue talking to people, but communities will only thrive when the people in them are prepared to be a part of that.

'The HCA deal has really made a complete difference to Norwich. It has provided a new heart to the city with the War Memorial and has already enabled us to start building 108 urgently-needed affordable houses at former garage sites. That project has given the opportunity to start a training project to provide apprenticeships to people who are unemployed or new to the labour market. So we are not just providing new homes, we are opening job opportunities for local people too.'

Bert Bremner, the council's cabinet member for planning and transport, said: 'By doing this as the landowner, we can control the standard of the development. We are not just concerned about wanting to make money. We are there to help the city and make this a sustainable and positive place to live.'

On the opposite side of the city, the Deal Ground, Utilities and May Gurney sites consist of 15 hectares of brownfield land which has become the focus for an ambitious new 'River Gateway' vision.

Situated either side of the river, the sites form part of a rejuvenation concept which could also create a network of paths and bridges linking the city to the countryside at Whitlingham.

Nearly �1m for this project was awarded to Norwich in December 2008 as part of transport charity Sustrans' nationwide Connect2 project, which won funding from the Big Lottery.

An outline application for 682 houses on the Deal Ground and adjacent May Gurney sites was submitted by Serruys Property Company in December, and is still awaiting a decision.

The application includes proposals for a marina, a specialist dining quarter, car parking, and creation of new pedestrian and cycle routes.

Despite the potential constraints of the sites, including contamination, access limitations and flood risks, Mr Bremner said he was optimistic for the future of the scheme.

'It is going to be really positive for that side of the city,' he said. 'We will make some lovely connections into the countryside, while making good homes for people, creating jobs and opening up the area.'

Among the multitude of city centre sites put forward for consideration, the joint core strategy adopted by the GNDP (Greater Norwich Development Partnership) also incorporates the separate Northern City Centre Area Action Plan.

That document covers an area enclosed by Magpie Road, Bull Close Road, Whitefriars and the River Wensum, and includes a comprehensive redevelopment of Anglia Square providing retail space and 250 homes.