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New documents reveal how battle for fate of £271m Anglia Square revamp will be fought

PUBLISHED: 11:25 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 09:10 17 October 2019

The plans include a 20-storey tower in Anglia Square. Photo: Weston Homes

The plans include a 20-storey tower in Anglia Square. Photo: Weston Homes

Weston Homes

The developers behind Anglia Square will argue that the controversial tower at the heart of their scheme will enhance Norwich when a public inquiry is held.

The view towards St Augustine's Church. Photo: Weston HomesThe view towards St Augustine's Church. Photo: Weston Homes

But critics are set to argue it would damage one of Europe's greatest historic cities - and be regretted for generations.

When a fierce six-hour debate over the future of Anglia Square ended almost 12 months ago, city councillors gave the go-ahead for the development of the shopping centre.

But that was far from the end of the controversy surrounding what has been described as "the most significant housing project within the city of Norwich'.

Just three months later, the government announced it was calling the decision of Norwich City Council's planning committee, made by seven votes to five, to grant

That call-in, which will see an inspector hold almost three weeks of hearings before making a recommendation to the communities secretary on whether the scheme should go-ahead or not, came after Historic England asked the government to get involved.

The national heritage watchdog feared the impact of the development on the character of Norwich, particularly with a 20-storey high tower part of the plans.

City Hall officers, in recommending permission be granted had acknowledged it would cause harm, but had said a "compelling case" had been made, with "economic and social benefits" for the city.

It will now be up to the inspectors to hear the cases of those for and against the development, which includes 1,234 new homes, a leisure quarter with a cinema, car parks, a 200-bed hotel, the tower block and a new home for Surrey Chapel.

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLYAnglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Interested parties have had to submit statement of cases to the inspector ahead of the hearings in January. This is what they said:

Weston Homes/Columbia Threadneedle

The applicants have submitted a 294-page statement of case to the inspectors, outlining how they intend to give evidence to the hearings to justify the granting of permission.

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLYAnglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

They will argue that the proposal does not "cause harm" to heritage assets in the southern part of the city, including the cathedrals, St Peter Mancroft, Guildhall and City Hall.

They will argue the tower will actually enhance the townscape and will provide evidence "to show that the historic townscape in Magdalen Street will, over time, be enhanced through the economic regeneration consequent on the development."

They intend to produce evidence to show "the urban design of the scheme is exemplary" and the "tower design is of the highest quality".

And they say that Norwich has not been hitting its housing targets, which require the identification of a five-year supply of land for homes.

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLYAnglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

That, they will argue, demonstrates that providing up to 1,250 homes at what they described as a "highly sustainable location" is a matter of substantial importance to which very significant weight should be attached.

They will argue there is "near unequivocal support for the application at local, citywide and regional level, which will "significantly enhance the strength and competitiveness of the Norwich economy".

They will say: "Given the challenging nature of the site, which has steadily deteriorated over the years, and the exceptionally high cost of redevelopment, a housing-led mixed use development of at least 1,200 residential units is an essential requirement to achieve economic viability and thus ensure delivery of the scheme, including the replacement commercial premises for the large district centre."

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLYAnglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Historic England

It was Historic England's concerns which triggered the call-in of the scheme, and the national heritage body has submitted a 34-page statement of case ahead of the inquiry.

In it, they say: "Norwich is one of England's - and Europe's - great historic cities".

While they say the redevelopment of Anglia Square is "to be encouraged", they say what is proposed would be "profoundly unsympathetic to the character of Norwich".

Paul Burall. Picture: Bob HobbsPaul Burall. Picture: Bob Hobbs

They say: "Their effect would be to severely compromise the character of Norwich, to damage its cityscape and, in consequence, to impair people's appreciation of the historic buildings and spaces which make up the city."

They will argue: "Few people dispute the desirability of replacing Anglia Square in its present form, and the principle of redevelopment is not at issue in this inquiry. What is at issue is the approach to be taken to that redevelopment."

Historic England intends to show, at the hearing, the effect the development would have on the rest of the city and the harm it says would be caused to key heritage buildings.

They intend to argue that the "heritage balance" is clearly against granting permission and the council's analysis which tipped it in favour of recommending permission was "flawed".

They say: "Historic England will argue that the proposed development would repeat the mistakes made in the comprehensive redevelopment of the 1960s and exacerbate, rather than repair the harm which the development caused to the character of Norwich."

Norwich City Council

The city council's 52-page submission explains why officers recommended that the site, described as "the most significant development opportunity in the northern part of the city centre" should be given permission

They say Anglia Square and Sovereign House is "detrimental to the local historic townscape and comprises a highly visible indicator of a decade or more of dereliction and lack of developer in this part of the city."

They say development would bring environmental enhancements, benefits such as the creation of new jobs, housing and a better shopping centre.

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They say it would "deliver a considerable boost to the local economy through investment and new expenditure which will support both existing businesses and the growth of new enterprise".

The council says it does now have a five year land supply, but that there is still a "substantial need" for housing.

They say "much of the development site is a wasteland" and that "several of the largest and ugliest buildings on the site are empty."

And, in contrast to Historic England, they will say of the tower: "It is accepted that Norwich is capable of evolving beyond its earlier pattern, where all the prominent buildings were concentrated to the south of the River Wensum.
"The tower could effectively symbolise the new activity and spaces that are being created in the northern part of the city centre as part of the growth of the city centre."

Unlike the applicant, they say the scheme would cause harm to the cathedrals, City Hall and St Peter Mancroft, along other buildings. But they say that is a "less than substantial impact".

But they say the public benefits outweigh that harm.

Save Britain's Heritage

The campaigning organisation has signalled it intends to present a case to the hearings for the scheme should not go ahead.

They say it will "fundamentally change the historic skyline of Norwich, which remains today as one of Britain's best medieval cities.

"Because of the proposed scale, height and massing of the proposed scheme, its impact will be widespread across much of the city of Norwich and beyond."

They say an alternative vision for the development should be considered and that, if the current plans go ahead it would be "regretted by generations to come".

The Norwich Society

The civic watchdog, one of the most vocal opponents of the scheme during the planning stages, says the scheme would be "completely out of character with the city, both in terms of architecture and density".

Paul Burall, from the society, will say: "We believe that, if the development is allowed to go ahead, it will damage both the local economy and the general attractiveness of the city."

On the tower, and the applicant's argument that it would serve as a way-marker, he says: "The idea that people need a residential tower to orient themselves is absurd. Local people will know where they are anyway, and visitors will have no idea of the relationship of the tower to where they wish to go."

They warn there is also a "danger of setting a precedent" for towers in Norwich to get taller and taller if this scheme is allowed.

Norwich Cycling Campaign

The 17-page submission by the cycling campaign group say the air pollution from the development "presents a threat to the health of people living in the area, and those working and travelling through the area".

The group will also argue that the cycle and pedestrian routes are poorly planned and have similar concerns to Historic England over the height and massing of the buildings.

Magdalen Street Area and Anglia Square Traders Association (MATA)

James Wade, vice-chair of MATA, said, in the submission to the inquiry: "The committee implores you and the minister to make a quick decision and one in favour of supporting the council before this community hub and local facility dies completely."

The group's submission stated: "We all know Anglia Square is falling apart, it is near 50 years old. It has always had empty shops and none of the previous owners have ever made enough money to maintain it properly or keep it going.

"Every year that passes it costs more and more to patch up, we know it cannot survive much longer."

The MATA submission questioned why those who protested so much against the 20-storey tower had not objected to extra height being added to the converted Westlegate House close to Norwich Castle in the city centre.

And they said: "Should this application fail, MATA is concerned not only will this developer walk away but, given the track record of the previous applications, the interest of any other owner/developer would be non-existent."

What happens next?

The inquiry over the plans for Anglia Square will take place next year, with 16 days of hearings due to start on January 28.

At the hearings, each of the interested parties will have the opportunity to make their case on whether the scheme should or should not be granted planning permission.

So, developers Weston Homes/Columbia Threadneedle and Norwich City Council will be attempting to convince the inspector that the council was correct to grant permission.

But opponents, such as Historic England and the Norwich Society, will be outlining why they believe the council's planning committee was wrong to give the scheme the go-ahead.

After that evidence is laid before the inspector, they will make a recommendation to the communities secretary as to whether the scheme should be allowed to proceed or not.

The communities secretary can choose to follow that advice, or they could decide to ignore it.

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