'City slums' to suburbs: How housing changes will continue to shape Norwich

Future housing developments off Salhouse Road in Sprowston which is unrecognisable to what is depicted in a historic map

Future housing developments off Salhouse Road in Sprowston which is unrecognisable to what is depicted in a historic map - Credit: Sophie Wylie/Malcolm Martins/Santos Photography

Rapid changes transforming the face of Norwich have been laid bare by local experts, prompting warnings that the city must protect its open spaces.  

Once a city surrounded by farmland, Norwich’s former “city slums” are now bustling suburbs.  

One area which has undergone a huge transformation is Sprowston – with a map showing how huge the leap in the area has been.  

A map sent in to the Evening News showing Sprowston 100 years ago

A map sent in to the Evening News showing Sprowston 100 years ago - Credit: Sprowston Heritage/John Whitlam

Once a scene of fields, blacksmiths and farmland it is now home to housing estates which are set to grow. 

The map, which is believed to date to the 1920s, shows how arable land such as Wilks Farm and Dixon's Farm used to dominate the area with housing few and far between. 

But Wilk's Farm has now become Wilks Farm Drive as the population of the suburb town has risen from around 2,350 in 1901 to just over 16,000 in 2019. 

This is how much Sprowston has changed in the space of 100 years 

This is how much Sprowston has changed in the space of 100 years - Credit: Sprowston Heritage/John Whitlam/Google Maps

Recent development such as White House Farm and the approved 535-home Woodland Heath site off Salhouse Road means the population will continue to swell in years to come.  

Most Read

Local historian Malcolm Martins, 74, who lives in the neighbouring town of Thorpe St Andrew, said the surge for demand in Norwich’s suburbs began as part of the Homes for Heroes scheme at the end of the First World War.  

People who lived in areas dubbed “city slums” were moved out to the periphery of the city, followed by a second surge of housing from the 1950s.

How Sprowston now looks today 

How Sprowston now looks today - Credit: Google Maps

 

Mr Martins said: "There continues to be a lot of housing and it is a concern to see developers building on agricultural land rather than old industrial sites. We need to look to build on brownfield sites where we can."  

Sprowston town councillor Bill Couzens, 67, moved to Church Green in 1980 at a time when Wilks Farm was yet to be built on.  

He recalled: "A lot of the roads and houses were just foundations and Mountbatten Drive was all fields. 

"I used to walk my dog with a man who remembers the roundabout near The Brickmakers as a field with cows grazing on it.” 

Local historian Malcolm Martins, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew

Local historian Malcolm Martins, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew - Credit: Malcolm Martins

The reason for the increase in the need for affordable housing, he believes, is that younger people are trying to get on the market independently.  

He said: "There is no getting away from the fact there is a growing population. People are living longer and independently. 

"In my parents' day people would not leave home until they were married but now a lot of people move out and buy before they do that. 

“More people are also getting divorced as opposed to staying in marriages which aren’t working, which again prompts a need for more homes.” 

Sprowston town councillor Bill Couzens who has lived in the town for 30 years

Sprowston town councillor Bill Couzens who has lived in the town for 30 years - Credit: Santos Photography

And the demographic of Norwich’s suburbs are set to shift again given plans at Beeston Park for a new 3,500 home town to the north of Norwich. 

The footprint would include parts of Sprowston and Old Catton, but construction is yet to begin after it was granted permission in 2016. 

The project, which was formerly known as Beyond Green, is expected to crop up again in the future. 

Mr Couzens said: "Nothing has been done since 2016 as far as I know but I suspect the wait is for the land prices to go up.” 

Elsewhere the Greater Norwich Development Partnership 'growth triangle' to the north-east of the city has seen development increase. 

Plans have also been submitted to the government for a total of 45,000 new homes to be built in the area by 2041.  

Suburbs such as Hellesdon, Thorpe St Andrew, Rackheath and Sprowston all have been identified as an area of urban extension outside of Norwich as part of a joint core strategy adopted by Broadland, Norwich and South Norfolk Councils.  

The new homes off Atlantic Avenue, Sprowston, which have been built on the White House Farm development.

The new homes off Atlantic Avenue, Sprowston, which have been built on the White House Farm development over the past few years. The area looks set to expand. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

Such development has raised the question of the ever-changing nature of the suburb and whether driving people out of the city centre is a good or bad thing. 

Professor Eric Smith, an economics expert from the University of Essex, said: "There is almost this divide between cities and suburbs. It is highly viable and dependent on where public funds are being directed.  

"There is a lot of development in wealthier, newer areas and I do not think that is unexpected."  

Prof Smith added: "There is a lot of difference across cities in terms of their prosperity. 

The future housing developments off Salhouse Road, Sprowston, opposite newly-built estates.

The future housing developments off Salhouse Road, Sprowston, opposite newly-built estates. - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

"London is very different to Norwich. Even though Norwich is doing pretty well for itself it is not in line with the great metropolises of the world. London is now a metropolis." 

An artist's impression of the main square of Beyond Green's Beeston Park project.

An artist's impression of the main square of Beyond Green's Beeston Park project. - Credit: submitted

Major housing projects planned for Norwich 

Thousands of new homes are being earmarked both in Norwich city centre and its surrounding towns and villages. 

National planning think tank, Centre for Cities, believes more homes can address affordability and housing inequality issues, but it does ask questions over the existing services and infrastructure available.

Among the major projects lined up for the city are the East Norwich Masterplan and the Pinebanks development in Thorpe St Andrew

The former includes four key sites - Carrow Works, the Deal Ground and May Gurney sites in Trowse and the Utilities site between Thorpe Hamlet and Whitlingham.

Carrow Works revelopment

How the Carrow Works site could look after redevelopment. - Credit: Allies And Morrison

This would see 3,500 homes built in addition to the 725 planned for four site across Thorpe St Andrew. 

Controversial plans to redevelop Anglia Square could see around 1,100 homes built from late 2022 as developer Weston Homes unveiled fresh proposals after being met with initial rejection.