PRESS RELEASE: SAVE objects to ‘overwhelming’ scale of development plans in medieval Norwich

26th May 2022

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has formally objected to damaging and dominant proposals for Anglia Square in the historic heart of the city.

SAVE has written to Norwich City Council to oppose a planning application for a vastly out-of-scale development that would overwhelm the medieval city centre.

Our principal objection is to the scale and bulk of the proposed blocks – some as high as eight storeys – which we believe will cause substantial harm to this part of the city centre which is predominantly characterised by two- and three-storey buildings, particularly around St Augustine’s Church and the residential streets to the north, east and west of the site.

The scheme, submitted by Weston Homes after a previous application was thrown out by the Secretary of State, is for 14 large blocks containing 1,100 flats plus 8,000 sqm of commercial space and parking for 450 cars.

SAVE has also objected to the proposed demolition of a cluster of historic buildings at the southwestern corner of Anglia Square which, remarkably, has survived both Second World War bombing and the area’s major redevelopment in the 1960s.

These buildings, three of which have been submitted to Historic England for potential listing, include what is, excitingly, believed to be the recently identified site (and potential remains) of the medieval church of St Olave’s. Its dedication to a Norwegian saint strongly implies that the church was built towards the middle of the 11th century and hence was pre-Norman Conquest. The Dean of Norwich Cathedral has written to the council to support the “protection, preservation and interpretation” of St Olave’s, adding: “It hardly seems credible that this fabric, which survived the Second World War and the [1960s] Anglia Square development, should even now be threatened with destruction.”

Alongside St Olave’s are a locally listed former Victorian pub and a Georgian town house. The trio, significant in their own right, could play a key role in helping knit a more sensitive new development into the historic townscape.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “The existing Anglia Square sits like a cuckoo in the nest within the remarkable medieval core of the city, a comprehensive development that is regarded now by the vast majority of its citizens as a mistake of the 1960s. The success of the new scheme will be judged in the future not on what was there before, or the previous refused scheme, but the quality of the new development that is built. The public inquiry has presented the owners and developer of this site with a unique opportunity and responsibility to build a high-quality development of an appropriate scale that fits within its historic conservation area context. We are concerned that the plans presented to us do not achieve this aim, and do not reflect the high importance that the Secretary of State placed on heritage and design issues in his decision.”

Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, says: “Weston Homes’ proposal is the wrong scheme for this sensitive site. We think there’s a great opportunity here to repair the gaping wound of Anglia Square by stitching it back into the historic fabric of Norwich’s medieval street pattern. Instead this incongruous development will overwhelm the charming and harmonious streets around it.”

The 11.5-acre Anglia Square site currently includes a 1960s shopping centre and former government offices backed by a vast open-air car park, all slated for redevelopment. SAVE Britain’s Heritage is not opposed to new buildings here but believes the location, just inside the historic city centre, means enormous care must be taken. We have already fought and won, alongside Historic England and the Norwich Society, a high-profile public inquiry against an earlier scheme proposed by Weston Homes which would have crowbarred a 20-storey tower into the city’s low-rise skyline. While we acknowledge that the new application – submitted to Norwich City Council in April – is not as devastating, we believe it would undoubtedly still cause substantial harm and that Norwich deserves better.

We believe the site is eminently suitable for a lower-rise development designed around streets that connect to the city’s existing street pattern, mending the ruptured townscape.

Notes to editors:

1. For more information contact Elizabeth Hopkirk: / 020 7253 3500.

2. Read our full letter of objection to the proposals here. We are also objecting to the proposed housing mix, with only 10% of the homes designated “affordable” and the scheme dominated by one- and two-bedroom flats (95%). The council’s own housing assessment outlines the urgent need for more family-sized homes in this part of the city.

3. In 2019-2020 SAVE, Historic England and the Norwich Society successfully fought off previous proposals to demolish these buildings under controversial plans by Weston Homes to redevelop Anglia Square with a 20-storey tower block and 1,200 flats. The plans were thrown out by the Secretary of State at a public inquiry in 2020.

4. The latest plans for Anglia Square were submitted to Norwich City Council on 1st April 2022 and are now out for public consultation (Reference No. 22/00434/F). Click here to view and comment on the plans.

5. SAVE Britain's Heritage is an independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses.