New homes boost for Norwich

New life is being breathed into Norwich despite the tough economic climate, according to community leaders who have hailed the creation of 100 new homes and revamps for long neglected buildings.

Buildings which have long stood empty and key development sites around the city which have been waiting for work to start are on the cusp of being revived in 2012.

And some of the first of more than 100 new homes for families on the council waiting list are nearing completion – giving a much-needed boost to the city's affordable housing market. Dozens of former garage sites around Norwich are having homes built on them as part of a �8m partnership between the city council, Orwell Housing Association and the Homes and Communities Agency - the government's housing and regeneration body.

Construction is being carried out by ISG and, by working with Norwich-based Construction Training Specialist, this has created between six and 10 employment and training opportunities for apprentices.

Homes are being built in Lakenham Road, Beecheno Road, Pilling Park Road, Peckover Road, Exeter Street, Berners Street, Bowers Avenue, Sleaford Green, Vale Green, Belvoir Street, Pelham Road, Starling Road, Friends Road, The Avenues, Bates Green, Jamieson Place, Randle Green and Horning Close.

The houses are a mix of two, three and four-bed houses and one, two and three-bed flats, with roof-mounted solar panels and some with rainwater harvesting and re-use systems.

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'It's really good news that the partnership has enabled us to deliver these homes. 'It's so important to provide some much needed affordable homes, while the work has also created some employment and training opportunities for apprentices.

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'We were frustrated by the government in our attempts to build our own council houses and, with the economic climate we are in, I am delighted that we have been able to help get these houses built at this difficult time.'

Elsewhere in Norwich, there have been other encouraging signs over the course of 2011, with a number of key developments on the brink of going ahead in 2012.

In the Evening News last year we reported how a number of iconic buildings in Norwich were standing empty as the economy struggled.

One of those buildings was Westlegate House, considered by many as one of Norwich's ugliest. Twelve months ago it seemed unlikely this 11-storey building - empty since 1996 - would be on the cusp of redevelopment.

When it was first mooted at the end of the 1950s the developers promised it would be 'a pencil of light' – a sparkling addition to the Norwich skyline.

Dubbed the Glass Tower, the plans were approved without discussion at a committee meeting in City Hall and architects declared the mass of glass windows as giving the structure 'real beauty – providing the most wonderful effect in daylight'.

But the empty building had long stood neglected and forlorn, with even McDonald's, the last tenant on the ground floor, having shut up shop to move to the Haymarket.

However, in the summer, FW Properties announced it had snapped up the tower and, in November, it emerged that the new owners intend to convert it into flats with retail below.

A planning application is being drawn up for submission to the city council.

Another historic gem which was standing empty this time last year was the old offices of the brewery Steward, Patteson, Finch and Co, at the junction of Silver Road and Barrack Street.

More recently used as offices by Virgin One, the building was boarded up, but this year saw the Edwardian building brought back into use as the headquarters of discount store QD.

Another building which remains in limbo is Sovereign House at Anglia Square, but hopes are high that 2012 will see work begin on the redevelopment of the Anglia Square site.

Plans for a �100m revamp of the shopping centre area, including a new supermarket, shops, homes, a gym and restaurants, which had previously won approval, had stalled because of the credit crunch.

But this summer, the plans got another airing at City Hall and Ranald Phillips, one of the directors at developers Centenary Ashcroft said he hoped planning consent should be finalised next month which would enable a start on site next year.

Another site where work could finally start next year is the former Bally shoe factory off Hall Road in Tuckswood.

Asda wants to build a new 35,000 sq ft store there, which would create up to 300 new jobs.

One of the other 'ghost buildings' we reported on a year ago was the former Zavvi store in Castle Meadow, which had been empty since the entertainment retailer went into administration in 2009.

However, there's even good news on that score, with the British Heart Foundation opening a new store there on Wednesday.

But one of the empty buildings which still needs some tender loving care is Howard House, in King Street. The Grade II* listed gem, which dates back to the 17th century, is still surrounded by scaffolding.

It was caught up in problems after the developers of the adjacent St Anne's Wharf project went into administration.

Vicky Manthorpe, from civic watchdog The Norwich Society, said it was 'shameful' that Howard House was in such a state.

She said: 'It is shameful that nothing has happened there. The Norwich Preservation Trust did do a survey, but it's now a matter of which way the city is going to go with it. 'The weather has been kept out of the building, but that's about it. However, it would require substantial work to be done. 'That would be the one building I would most like to see sorted out over the next year.'

She added it had been a 'reasonably productive year' in terms of getting empty buildings back in use. She said she delighted the Silver Road brewery building was back in use and that she would not have believed 12 months ago, that Westlegate House was on the verge of being redeveloped.

• Which empty building or vacant site in Norwich would you most like to see sorted out in 2012? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email