PRESS RELEASE: Norwich tower block plan abandoned as court case collapses
16th April 2021
SAVE Britain's Heritage welcomes the decision by Weston Homes and Columbia Threadneedle to withdraw from the High Court action over highly controversial £271 million plans to re-develop Anglia Square in the centre of Norwich.
Under the plans, thrown out by the Secretary of State at a public inquiry in 2020, Anglia Square would have been redeveloped with a 20-storey tower - plans contested by Historic England, the Norwich Society, SAVE and many others due to its impact on the character of the city.
Robert Jenrick's refusal of planning was challenged by Weston Homes and site owners Columbia Threadneedle and was due to be heard in the High Court in May 2021.
On the 15th of April, the developers announced they will now 'go back to the drawing board' and come up with new proposals. They have pledged to collaborate with the local community and review the concerns of Historic England and the Secretary of State.
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage said: "We salute this decision from Weston Homes to withdraw from the High Court challenge, and to listen to our concerns and those of the local community, Historic England and the Secretary of State. We welcome their pledge to reset their highly controversial 20-storey tower scheme, and to collaborate on fresh proposals. SAVE looks forward to seeing more appropriate, much lower scale plans coming forward, that fit with the grain and character of Norwich as a magnificent historic city."
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain's Heritage said: "The acceptance of Robert Jenrick's decision comes at a time when other Cathedral cities such as Worcester are also threatened with ugly and unsuitable tall buildings. It reinforces the message that in historic cities beauty comes first. There is plenty of well-scaled new housing in the centre of Norwich at three, four and five storeys to serve as a model.
“It is wrong to propose overbearing blocks of 8, 10 and 12-storeys as Weston Homes did. As Historic England have shown with architects Ash Sakula, this is a site suitable for 600 houses laid out on a traditional street pattern."
High Court Action
A High Court hearing was due to be held on 19th May 2021 following the challenge by Weston Homes and Columbia Threadneedle to the Secretary of State's refusal of planning permission.
Robert Jenrick's decision was the culmination of a four-week public inquiry in January 2020. SAVE played a leading role in at the inquiry as a Rule 6 Party, represented by expert witness Alec Forshaw and barrister Matthew Dale-Harris.
SAVE was also involved in the High Court Action as an Interested Party and had submitted a Statement of Grounds prepared by Mr Dale-Harris.
The High Court Action was based on four grounds, three of which were accepted by the High Court:
- Ground 1: That the Secretary of State’s conclusion that the benefits of the scheme were sufficient to outweigh the harm to listed buildings when considered individually, but not collectively, discloses an error of reasoning;
- Ground 2: That the Secretary of State had failed to apply the “Bedford approach” when assessing the degree of heritage harm the scheme would cause and/or could not reasonably have concluded that a “mere impact on setting” was at the upper end of less than substantial harm; and
- Ground 4: That the Secretary of State had failed to provide adequate reasons for the decision. Of key interest to SAVE was the question of what amounts to substantial harm - a key definition relevant not only to this inquiry but to many other major planning applications across England.
These grounds were robustly countered by counsel for the Secretary of State, and lawyers acting for Weston Homes, yesterday withdrew their appeal and agreed to pay the Secretary of State's costs.
Under the plans submitted by Weston Homes and approved by Norwich City Council in December 2018, Anglia Square would have been comprehensively redeveloped for up to 1250 dwellings, hotel, retail and commercial floorspace.
The scheme included a 20-storey tower and blocks of 4-12 storeys, replacing existing post-war structures and older buildings on the site.
The plans were also set to receive £15m in public subsidy to make it deliverable. Anglia Square sits in the City Centre Conservation Area and a number of grade I and grade II listed buildings surround it.
Whilst we support the principle of regenerating Anglia Square, SAVE contends the square can be redeveloped in a different way which will unlock public benefits without harming the historic character of the city. We argued that public funds should not be used to finance such a harmful scheme. SAVE supported an alternative vision designed by Ash Sakula architects and put forward by Historic England.
Their alternative proposals showed how a more sympathetic, contextual approach to regeneration could see the area returned to low-rise streets and squares, characteristic of many creative quarters emerging in historic cities like Norwich elsewhere in the UK, without damaging the essential character which makes the city so special.
Notes to editors
1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, Conservation Officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: firstname.lastname@example.org / 07388 181 181.
2. See here for SAVE’s report on the Norwich public inquiry Cathedral cities don't need tower blocks published in April 2020.
3. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.