A huge question mark has been placed over whether the multi-million pound development of Anglia Square will go ahead – after the government announced it was calling in the city council’s decision to grant permission.
Norwich City Council bosses said the decision by communities secretary James Brokenshire to scrutinise City Hall’s planning committee’s go-ahead for the £271m scheme could mean it misses out on £12.2m of government cash.
And the “disappointed” developers say they will now “undertake a period of reflection and consultation” before deciding what the future holds for their scheme.
Mr Brokenshire’s intervention was triggered after Historic England asked the government to get involved because it feared the development’s impact on the character of Norwich, particularly with a 20-storey high tower part of the plans.
It means a planning inspector will now look into the decision and make a recommendation to the communities secretary as to whether the scheme should be allowed to go ahead or not. Mr Brokenshire could decide to go with the inspector’s advice or ignore it.
A spokeswoman for Norwich City Council said: “We are very disappointed by this news.
“Not only will it substantially delay progress on a site in desperate need of development, but also make it very unlikely that Norwich will be able to benefit from the £12.2m of government funds already allocated to this development.
“This money would have been used to accelerate the development of the site.
“An independent inspector will now be appointed by the secretary of state to consider the planning application. The inspector will then advise the secretary of state who will then make the final decision on the future of the Anglia Square site.”
The scheme by developer Weston Homes, with investment firm Columbia Threadneedle, would see the shopping centre and neighbouring Sovereign House demolished.
The buildings would be replaced with new blocks, including 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.
It had been approved by seven votes to five by members of Norwich City Council’s planning committee in December.
A spokesman for Weston Homes said: “Weston Homes is disappointed that the local democratic decision, made after extensive public consultation, to resolve to grant planning permission for the redevelopment of Anglia Square has been challenged.
“The secretary of state has decided to call-in the proposed scheme and has notified Weston Homes that a local enquiry will be undertaken.
“Weston Homes will now undertake a period of reflection and consultation with stakeholders, in order to decide our next course of action.”
But the proposal had been controversial. The city council received 939 comments on the original proposals and the revised plans – which included the tower’s height being cut from 25 storeys to 20 storeys.
Of those who submitted comments during the planning process, 767 objected to the plans and 120 supported them.
Objectors included Historic England, the Norwich Society and the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. They said the scheme would damage people’s appreciation of the Norman castle, the medieval cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, City Hall and medieval churches.
Historic England, which made the call-in request, welcomed the government’s decision to determine whether the plans should go ahead.
John Neale, head of development advice at Historic England, said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s decision to ‘call in’ this damaging scheme.
“Norwich is one of the Europe’s great historic cities containing more medieval churches than any city north of the Alps and has large numbers of exceptional historic buildings, streets and spaces rich in character.
“While we recognise Anglia Square is in need of redevelopment, this scheme with its 20 storey tower is certainly not the answer.
“We believe plans for the square could be developed in a different way which would still unlock public benefits. Historic England is not against development, however we agree with the Council for British Archaeology, the Norwich Society and others that the proposed scheme is not the right one. Norwich deserves so much better.”
City council officers had said, although the development and the tower would cause harm, a “compelling case” had been made, with “economic and social benefits” for the city.
They said, once Anglia Square is revamped and re-opened, there would be 536 to 763 full and part-time jobs in the shops, offices, bars, hotel and so on. There are currently about 200 to 250 jobs there.
The £12.2m for the scheme had been awarded through the government’s housing infrastructure fund to help pay for the demolition and development work at the complex.
Source: Eastern Daily Press