Analysis: What next for Anglia Square?

Historic England commissioned Ash Sakula Architects to come up with alternatives to the Anglia Squar

Historic England commissioned Ash Sakula Architects to come up with alternatives to the Anglia Square scheme. Their plans include a sky garden. Pic: Ash Sakula Architects - Credit: Ash Sakula Architects

The decision by the developers of the £271m Anglia Square development to ditch their legal challenge and go back to the drawing board throws up fresh questions about the future of the complex.

Weston Homes says it will "return to the drawing board" over its proposals for the Norwich shopping complex - but what will that mean?

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Anglia Square. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The plans which Weston Homes had been hoping to succeed with, include more than 1,200 new homes, including in a 20-storey tower, a hotel, cinema, car parks and new shops.

They were ready to challenge the government's decision to block it in the High Court, but have backed down.

Secretary of state Robert Jenrick went against the recommendation of planning inspector Dave Prentis to refuse the scheme, saying the 20-storey tower was of “excessive size in relation to its context”.

So, any new scheme will presumably include a tower which is not so high.

A 20-storey tower is part of the mooted revamp of Anglia Square. Photo: Weston Homes

A 20-storey tower was part of the plans for Anglia Square. - Credit: Weston Homes

That tower had been one of the reasons why the likes of Historic England, the Norwich Society and SAVE Britain's Heritage had objected to the scheme, saying it would damage Norwich's historic city skyscape, including on Norwich Cathedral.

Officers at City Hall had conceded harm would be done, but said it was outweighed by the social and economic benefits - and the city council's planning committee voted, by seven votes to five to approve it.

But, during the planning inquiry, the company had argued at least 1,200 residential units was “an essential requirement to achieve economic viability”.

The height of the tower had already been reduced from the 25-storeys in the initial application, so how low are Weston Homes prepared to go?

However, it was not just the height of the tower which Mr Jenrick baulked at.

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He said the massing of other blocks would be “uncharacteristic” and affect buildings in the conservation area, so it is not as simple as the tower's height being pared back.

Historic England, whose request helped trigger the initial call in for a planning inquiry, commissioned architects Ash Sakula Architects to demonstrate how something more sympathetic could be created.

That vision, presented at the planning inquiry, included just under 600 homes, the bulk of them on low levels and a sky garden, with views of the city.

John Neale, from Historic England, said at the inquiry it gave “serious pause for thought”, but conceded it was “not viable in the present circumstances”.

Weston Homes said it will spend the next few months in dialogue with Historic England, as well as Homes England, partner Columbia Threadneedle Investments, the city council and other stakeholders.

Perhaps that will involve further consideration of the sky garden idea.

And it all means a question mark still hangs over a £15m offer Homes England made to pay towards the demolition and development work at the complex.

The last thing anyone will want is a situation where a shopping complex, which needs maintenance, continues to deteriorate.

Given how much Weston Homes and Columbia Threadneedle have invested in this process so far, it is understandable that they want to come up with something which works.

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes. Pic: Weston Homes.

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes. Pic: Weston Homes. - Credit: Weston Homes

Bob Weston, chairman and chief executive of Weston Homes, said: "Weston Homes remain committed to devising proposals that provide a future for the Anglia Square site and for this to be successful we need to be aligned with key stakeholders such as Historic England and others who like us are passionate about the site and Norwich.

"We are looking forward to working in friendly collaboration with everyone to create fresh proposals for this challenging site to get the best possible solution for everyone.”

But it now remains to be seen just how collaborative they are prepared to be in formulating a scheme which all the many interested parties can back.

Bridges will need to be built, especially given Mr Weston's remarks when Mr Jenrick announced he was blocking the plan.

At that time, he said: "The secretary of state has gone against local democracy and the recommendations of a public inquiry, choosing to side with the NIMBY brigade who would rather see Norwich city centre die than support a future for the city’s economy."