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Norwich is 'collective work of art' under threat from Anglia Square revamp, inquiry hears

PUBLISHED: 18:00 28 January 2020 | UPDATED: 18:09 28 January 2020

Settling down to debate the future of Anglia Square, the planning inquiry gets underway at city hall, Norwich. Picture: Archant

Settling down to debate the future of Anglia Square, the planning inquiry gets underway at city hall, Norwich. Picture: Archant

Archant

The battle for the future of Anglia Square has begun, with supporters saying its revamp will be a huge economic boost for Norwich and critics warning it will cause "severe" damage to the historic city.

Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAnglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

While the developers say the £271m scheme would unlock the potential of the site, opponents say it would cause "severe" harm to one of Europe's most historic cities.

Heritage England said the scheme, with its 20-storey tower, risked damaging a city which is a "collective work of art, one thousand years in the making".

But the developers argue that "never has the prize of much needed regeneration and redevelopment of this hugely important site been closer at hand".

The next four weeks will see those for and against the Norwich shopping centre's redevelopment presenting evidence to planning inspector David Prentis at City Hall hearings.

John Neale, Historic England's planning director in the East of England, at the planning inquiry for Anglia Square. Picture: ArchantJohn Neale, Historic England's planning director in the East of England, at the planning inquiry for Anglia Square. Picture: Archant

The proposals, by Columbia Threadneedle and Weston Homes, were approved by Norwich City Council in December 2018.

The plans include more than 1,200 new homes, including in the tower, a hotel, cinema car parks and new shops.

But critics had objected due to the massing and height of the revamp - and its impact on the historic city skyscape, including Norwich Cathedral.

While Norwich City Council officers had conceded harm would be done, they said it was outweighed by the social and economic benefits.

Plans for a 20-storey tower in Anglia Square. Photo: Weston HomesPlans for a 20-storey tower in Anglia Square. Photo: Weston Homes

But, at the request of opponents, including national heritage watchdog Historic England, the matter was called in by the government.

That has triggered this planning inquiry, which started at City Hall today.

Following it, the planning inspector will make a recommendation to local government secretary Robert Jenrick as to whether the scheme should go ahead or not.

Mr Jenrick can choose to follow that advice, of reject it.

The days ahead will see evidence presented on a range of issues, including the impact of the development on the rest of Norwich, its viability, the amount of affordable housing, the impact of traffic and air quality.

Those giving evidence in support of the inquiry include the applicants and the city council, which has spent £350,000 on lawyers and legal advice.

Historic England, SAVE Britain's Heritage, the Norwich Society, the Norwich Cycling Campaign, and the Cathedral Magdalen and St Augustine's Forum are among objectors seeking to persuade the inspector to recommend that the scheme is not given the green light.

During the opening submissions, Russell Harris, QC, for Columbia Threadneedle/Weston Homes, said the current Anglia Square site "represents a signal failure of the planning system to deliver regeneration and repair."

Anglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYAnglia Square. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

He said it was a symbol, however undeserved, of "a city which looks as if it might have different priorities for its different communities."

He said the scheme, with its tower was "good architecture" and, in a remark directed at those who oppose it: "Although you might think it from some of the submissions to this inquiry, the fact that a building is visible, particularly in an inner city centre, does not make it harmful."

And he said: "The objectors' refusal to concede that the proposal will bring any real significant townscape benefits to the Anglia Square part of the conservation area and wider is unbalanced, blinked and rather Nelsonian."

Guy Williams, for Historic England, said even without the tower, the bulk and height of the development is uncharacteristic of the city.

And John Neale, from Historic England, said it risked causing "severe harm" to the cityscape and harm to the settings of listed buildings, including the castle and the city's two cathedrals.

He said: "Norwich can be reasonably described as a collective work of art, one thousand years in the making."

He said the character of Norwich as an "exceptional historic city" is at stake.

Timothy Corner, QC, for Norwich City Council said the council considers the harm to be "less than substantial" and the economic and social benefits the scheme would bring, including housing, justified it.

Paul Burall, chairman of the Norwich Society. Picture: Bob HobbsPaul Burall, chairman of the Norwich Society. Picture: Bob Hobbs

Dr Andrew Boswell, from the Norwich Cycling Campaign, which is raising concerns over air pollution, said the figures being used by the council and the applicants around air quality was "untrustworthy".

He said the surveys should have used more diffusion tubes for a longer period.

And Paul Burall, chairman of the Norwich Society told the inquiry that while Anglia Square is "a blot on the landscape", that should not be an excuse fro allowing "a development so out of keeping for the city".

The inquiry continues tomorrow.

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