PRESS RELEASE: SAVE wins landmark victory in Norwich public inquiry
13th November 2020
A great day in the history of heritage
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for local government has refused planning permission for the highly contentious 20 storey tower plans for Anglia Square in the heart of the medieval city.
It follows a three-year battle against the plans concluding in a public inquiry earlier this year, where SAVE Britain’s Heritage alongside Historic England, The Norwich Society and other local and national bodies played a leading role in fighting the plans.
In his decision, which went against the recommendation of the Inspector, Jenrick said that the proposed tower would be "of an excessive size in relation to its context and does not demonstrate the exceptional quality required by policy."
He agreed with the Inspector that the prevailing scale of the scheme, when combined with the large footprints of the individual blocks, would be uncharacteristic in the Conservation Area. Jenrick also said the benefits of the scheme were not sufficient to outweigh the harm identified to heritage assets.
Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage says: "We are delighted with the Minister's decision to refuse these controversial proposals in Anglia Square. From the outset, SAVE asserted that if built, the 20-storey tower would have a deeply harmful effect on the low scale character of this magnificent medieval city. This decision provides a huge opportunity for a more enlightened development approach to now come forward."
Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “The Secretary of State has repelled the vandals at the city gate. Norwich has been spared the most monstrous carbuncle that ever threatened to deface an English cathedral city."
"The promoters of this scheme, Norwich City Council, Columbia Threadneedle and Weston Homes must now look at alternatives, notably the excellent scheme by Ash Sakula architects commissioned by Historic England. The City Council must also note Mr Jenrick’s concern at the number of single aspect flats being proposed – this is rabbit hutch housing that is completely unacceptable.”
Ben Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain’s Heritage says: “This brilliant news is a victory for historic Norwich and for the role and value of conservation areas in planning. Beyond arguments over harm or viability, the voices of local residents in defence of their historic city shone through. This victory is for them.”
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.
SAVE was brilliantly represented at the inquiry by our key heritage witness Alec Forshaw, and by Matthew Dale Harris of Landmark Chambers. We were one of four Rule 6 Parties at the inquiry, along with Historic England, The Norwich Society and the Norwich Cycling campaign.
Strong verbal submissions at the inquiry in January - February 2020 were heard from the Cathedral, Magdalen Street and St Augustine’s Neighbourhood Forum, local businesses, The Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral, Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, Cllrs Carlo and Schmierer, local GP Allison Dow, former leader of Norwich City Council Ian Couzens and 45 residents from across Norwich.
Our case also garnered support from national heritage organisations including The Ancient Monuments Society, The Georgian Group, The Victorian Society, World Monuments Fund Britain, the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
Note 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 SAVE’s report on the inquiry Anglia Square: The battle which must be won HERE.
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.