Critics have attacked the “underhand” decision by City Hall to spare the Anglia Square developer from funding an estimated £2.3m worth of community projects for the area.

Norwich City Council is set to rule that the firm behind Norwich's biggest housing project does not need to pay a 'community infrastructure levy' (CIL), which could have been used to create nearby playgrounds, schools, libraries and allotments.

The Labour-led authority is taking the decision in order to keep the much-delayed scheme on track, after the developer, Weston Homes, claimed the project would be economically unviable if it had to pay the fee.

But critics have attacked the arrangement, branding it a “stitch-up”, and say it means the community will lose out on vital infrastructure.

Norwich Evening News: Norwich City Council's cabinet will be making a decision on WednesdayNorwich City Council's cabinet will be making a decision on Wednesday (Image: EDP pics © 2007)


When the planning application to build 1,100 homes at Anglia Square was approved earlier this year, the authority pledged that any decision on a CIL exemption would be made by its planning committee.

The committee is intended to be politically neutral and offers the opportunity for members of the public to have their say.

But the exemption is instead expected to be ratified by the council's cabinet, at a meeting on Wednesday.

The change from planning committee to cabinet has been branded "underhand" by opponents.

But City Hall insists it follows legal advice and says public participation at Wednesday's meeting will be at leader Mike Stonard's discretion.

Only one housing project in the city has ever been considered for a CIL exemption and that was a previous bid to redevelop Anglia Square.

In November 2018, a month before the authority's planning committee approved the earlier development plans, the council agreed a policy to allow certain schemes exemptions.

The development was ultimately halted by the government before City Hall had to make a final  CIL decision.

The latest Anglia Square plans will see 1,100 homes built across 12 blocks, ranging in height from two to eight storeys.    

The cabinet is being asked to approve a CIL exemption for the first two phases of the new development, worth £2,316,769.92. The total levy for all four phases is expected to be around £7.7m.



Norwich Evening News: Hugo Malik, a former Labour city councillorsHugo Malik, a former Labour city councillors (Image: Newsquest)

Hugo Malik, a former Labour councillor and member of the Norwich Renters Collective, a campaign group calling for fair rents in the city, said he was “absolutely appalled”.

He argued that a CIL exemption policy should not have been introduced in the first place, because the money is needed for local projects. 

“That’s money that goes into green projects, schools, things for the community, yet Norwich City Council can take a unilateral decision to allow CIL exemption. It’s a stitch-up. 

“They are making the decision at an extraordinary cabinet meeting, rather than at the planning committee, it’s an affront to democracy to attempt to sneak it through. 

“They wouldn’t take it to cabinet if they couldn’t do it legally, but it is an underhand way of doing it.” 

Norwich Evening News: Jamie Osborn, Green group councillor (Image: Archant)Jamie Osborn, Green group councillor (Image: Archant) (Image: Archant)

Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn said: "Parts of our city are already struggling for access to schools and other vital public services.  

“Adding more than a thousand homes to Anglia Square will only add to that strain unless there is investment in the surrounding infrastructure. 

"So, it is galling that Weston Homes are therefore applying to be exempt from paying their contribution to community infrastructure when they are expecting to make tens of millions of pounds in profit out of Anglia Square.”

He also said the move to a cabinet meeting meant there was “no public consultation” and debate, insisting that residents deserve a fair hearing.  

Norwich Evening News: Liberal Democrat councillor Judith LubbockLiberal Democrat councillor Judith Lubbock (Image: ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434)

Judith Lubbock, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said she understood why the move had been made and had been told that the public would be allowed to speak, but this has not been confirmed by City Hall. 

“The council received advice which told them it should come to cabinet, and it is still an open meeting,” she said. 

"At the end of the day, it is probably a forgone conclusion that they will get an exemption.

“I hope they will be open enough to have groups be allowed to speak because I think people have legitimate concerns about it.” 

The Norwich Renters collective, which is backed by housing charity Shelter, has received more than 500 signatures on a petition calling for the council to reject the exemption.



Officials have recommended the exemption for approval ahead of the meeting.

They say viability evidence submitted by the developers shows the levy would “result in a substantial financial deficit” for the project and future phases will "not generate a surplus". 

A ‘review mechanism’ is also included in the plans to reassess the viability at points throughout development and if it improves surplus cash can be used to deliver more affordable housing. 

A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: “Knowing that a submission for CIL Exceptional Circumstances Relief (ECR) may be coming, over the summer officers sought legal advice around the decision-making process.

“This legal advice made clear that the planning applications committee does not have the authority to make a decision on CIL ECR. Instead, it must be either the leader of the council or wider cabinet which makes this decision.

“The advice given to planning committee about the expected process for determining any such application was given in good faith.” 

She insisted the council must operate in line with the legal advice, which has required an extraordinary cabinet meeting, which will be held in public.

“It is not normal practice to allow public questions at extraordinary meetings, but this is at the chair’s discretion,” she added. 

Weston Homes declined to comment. 

Its partner, Columbia Threadneedle - which owns the land at Anglia Square and which has applied for the exemption - did not respond to requests.