Castle Mall architect suggests design competition for Anglia Square

A 20-storey tower is part of the mooted revamp of Anglia Square. Photo: Weston Homes

The scrapped plans for Anglia Square. - Credit: Weston Homes

The architect behind Norwich's Castle Mall and the revamp of the market has suggested an architectural competition to redevelop Anglia Square.

Weston Homes, the developer behind the £271m plans, this week withdrew from the High Court battle over the proposals and pledged to go back to the drawing board.

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes. Pic: Weston Homes.

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes. Pic: Weston Homes. - Credit: Weston Homes

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive, said: "We are looking forward to working in friendly collaboration with everyone to create fresh proposals for this challenging site to get the best possible solution for everyone.”

The plans for the site, which included a 20-storey tower block, more than 1,200 new homes, a hotel, cinema, car parks and new shops, had been hugely controversial.

The rejected revamp of Anglia Square could be set for the High Court. Pic: Weston Homes

Weston Homes has abandoned these plans for Anglia Square. - Credit: Weston Homes

They were approved by Norwich City Council's planning committee, recommended for approval by a planning inspector after an inquiry, but were then blocked by local government secretary Robert Jenrick.

Organisations which opposed the scheme, including Historic England and SAVE Britain's Heritage, said they were keen to work with Weston Homes to come up with a more palatable scheme.

Michael Innes

Michael Innes, the architect behind Castle Mall. - Credit: Archant

And Michael Innes, the architect behind the 1990s-built Castle Mall, now the Castle Quarter, and the revamp of Norwich Market in 2005, said a competition could be the way forward.

Retired Mr Innes said he was delighted the previous scheme had been abandoned, saying it would have "destroyed the character and scale of Norwich".

He said: "I know we can't stop the world from turning, but what we don't know is what things are going to look like post Covid.

"It's wrong to make major commitments on any piece of land without considering what the world is going to look like.

Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Anglia Square. - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

"We might want quite different accommodation, if people are going to be doing more working from home, while retail may be changing.

"I think people will always want to go shopping, despite what Amazon may want, because it is a social experience.

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"But maybe it will be more along the Argos model, of maybe trying clothes on or looking at products and then ordering them to be taken home or delivered to homes.

"I think it's important that everything is on the table for discussion now so it can all be thrashed out."

Mr Innes, former president of the Norfolk Association of Architects, said a competition between different architects, including local ones, based on a brief of what was wanted at Anglia Square, could be beneficial.

But he said he was concerned that Weston Homes was seeking to get a new scheme together too rapidly.

He said: "I have always been a believer in localism and local architects have done very well in shaping Norwich, whether that's George Skipper with the Royal Arcade or Edward Boardman with Norwich Castle.

"I don't think there should be competition for every building, but when it's an important major scheme it can be beneficial.

"It's not just about the competition in and of itself. What that can do is highlight different approaches and improve a scheme.

Castle Quarter during COVID19 lock down. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Castle Quarter during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

"In a sense, that's what happened when I came to the Castle Mall.

"The brief came about because of the differences in what had been proposed.

The view from the Memorial Gardens of the colourful market stalls and the castle. Picture: DENISE BR

The view from the Memorial Gardens of the colourful market stalls and the castle. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

"And I think that was also proven with Norwich Market. All sorts of proposals had been put forward and people were writing to the newspaper saying 'surely they're not going to do that?'

"That's where I came out of retirement and came up with a very simple idea for the market, for which I was commissioned."

Mr Innes, 90, said he was saddened that the current system of government, nationally and locally, was set up to encourage councils to "chase money" through development.

Mr Innes, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew, said a proper debate was needed on what planning was for in the 21st century - whether it was to profit developers or to profit communities.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick - Credit: PA

When he rejected the previous scheme, Mr Jenrick said the massing of the individual blocks and the tower, and the extent to which the height and mass of the proposal would be “uncharacteristic” in the Norwich City Centre Conservation Area and did not fit with policy.