Heritage campaigners have urged the housing secretary to intervene after councillors approved in principle Broadway Malyan’s revised proposals for a 20-storey tower in the heart of Norwich
Both Historic England and Save Britain’s Heritage have written to James Brokenshire following the decision earlier this month by Norwich City Council’s Planning Applications Committee to grant consent to the controversial residential tower as part of a £270 million mixed-use scheme for Weston Homes and landowner Columbia Threadneedle.
More than 700 objections – including two petitions – were received to the Anglia Square development, which includes 1,250 flats, 11,000m² retail and commercial space, a 200-bed hotel, a cinema and a new home for Surrey Chapel.
Save Britain’s Heritage conservation adviser Thomas Bender told the AJ the application was of national significance, and thus worthy of determination by the secretary of state, as it would affect the setting of the city’s Grade I-listed cathedral.
He added that it should be refused because it would cause ‘substantial harm’ to the setting of the cathedral as well as ’seriously compromise the character of the historic streetscape’.
An earlier letter by Save to Norwich City Council – understood to be broadly similar to the confidential missive sent to Brokenshire – noted that ‘Norwich remains one of Britain’s best-preserved medieval cities, where the outstanding role of cathedral and church spires, castle and town hall is still legible.’
It added: ‘Largely unaffected by 19th and 20th-century additions, this unique tableau would be irrevocably destroyed by the new tower.’
The controversial tower was cut back by five storeys after protests from Historic England earlier this year.
But despite the changes, the heritage watchdog issued a strongly worded letter arguing the plans would ‘severely harm the city’s extraordinary historic character’.
Historic England East of England planning director John Neale said: ‘Norwich is one of 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 20-storey tower is certainly not the answer. Despite the reduction in height from 25 to 20 storeys, it would still remain a prominent and alien feature.’
But planning officers argued that the existing shopping centre was ‘outdated’ and its visible signs of vacancy and dereliction both ‘blight the image’ of the city centre and sent a negative message to the development sector.
The officers said: ‘The cumulative harm identified is to some extent offset by other beneficial aspects of the development for the historic environment. These benefits have been scarcely acknowledged by Historic England.’
The government said an Article 31 holding direction – temporarily preventing a final planning decision at local level – had been placed on the application to allow Brokenshire to consider the request to intervene.
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: ’We have written to the secretary of state for housing asking him not to call in the planning application for the redevelopment of Anglia Square and to allow the matter to be determined locally.’
Broadway Malyan declined to comment.