Norwich bingo hall demolition mystery

Sarah BrealeyA missing planning record could hold the key to the future appearance of a city centre street.Sarah Brealey

An old planning record could hold the key to the future appearance of a city centre street, it was claimed today.

The Mecca bingo building is one of the least attractive buildings on Norwich's historic All Saints Green. Now a former Norwich Union manager has revealed that its demolition was a condition laid down by planners back in the 1950s.

The condition was never due to take effect until the lease on the building expired. But as that time grows nearer, it seems that the records of the planning decision cannot be found.

Kenneth Henderson, 95, of Eaton Road, Norwich, was general manager of Norwich Union until he retired in 1974. During the 1950s he was the firm's investment manager, and recalls getting planning permission for a new office development on Surrey Street with a wing to All Saints Green, which still stands today.

He said: 'We wanted to put a big volume of building on the site and the condition was that when the lease expired on the Mecca bingo building, which at that time was a cinema, that building was to be demolished. The condition was there as a way to reduce the volume of buildings in the area.

'Norwich Union bought the freehold of the cinema, but the freehold was subject to a 99-year lease, dating from the 1920s. Recently I have been saying to myself, someone has got to pull down that building and who is going to do it?

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'It was quite a well-known deal at the time. The building has to be demolished. It is clear in the legal documentation and I hope the city council is going to look at it.

'The building really is horrible, especially compared with other buildings in the area.'

The Norwich Society is also taking an interest in the matter and had passed Mr Henderson's information on to the city council.

Society chairman Alec Hartley said: 'That would be a great pity if it cannot be found. Mr Henderson's memory is extremely sharp and I don't doubt that he remembers it correctly. All I can hope is that they keep on looking and find it.'

A city council spokesman said they could not find any record of a planning permission for a Norwich Union building on Surrey Street or All Saints Green in the 1950s. The closest record is from October 1949, for an office block, but there were no conditions attached.

Mr Henderson believes that the 1949 planning permission is for a previous office block. And a plaque at the side of the office block on Surrey Street, marking the development of new offices, is dated June 1958 - suggesting that there would have been a planning permission given in the 1950s.

John Roche, from Mecca Bingo, said: 'The lease doesn't run out until 2025. In fact we are being modernised this year.'

Can you help solve the mystery? Call reporter Sarah Brealey on 01603 772485 or email