Developer blames Tories for collapse of Broadway Malyan £300m Norwich plans

The developer said it had been forced to scrap the 1,100-home development due to a ‘multitude of issues’ that had affected the scheme’s viability and made funding ‘extremely difficult’, adding that it had wasted eight years and £7.5 million on the project.

Among its seven main reasons for cancelling the plans (see full list below), Weston Homes blamed national government interventions for a series of setbacks, including when then housing minister Robert Jenrick overturned Norwich City Council’s consent and a planning inspector’s recommendation to approve, sending the 20-storey tower scheme back to the drawing board three and a half years ago.

The developer also said nutrient neutrality rules meant it now had to pay a £4 million levy towards council housing provision while planning delays meant it was set to lose almost half of its allocated £15 million Marginal Viability Funding from Homes England’s Housing Infrastructure Fund.

Weston Homes claimed too that the design guidelines in the government’s Building Safety Act (2022) would have resulted in the loss of 100 homes with proposed buildings requiring redesigns.

Chairman and managing director Bob Weston said: ‘There are sadly no winners with this outcome. The city and people of Norwich, Weston Homes and Anglia Square are all victims of this deeply unfortunate situation.’

Weston, who said he had ‘bent-over-backwards to make this work’, added: ‘The core contributor to a lot of the issues in this saga is the Conservative government, which seems to have no understanding of the importance of supporting the housebuilding industry, regional cities and local communities in the UK.’

The latest iteration of the scheme was approved last April following a planning committee meeting lasting nearly eight-hours. Councillors finally voted by eight votes to five to allow the huge 4.65ha project.

The scheme, for developer Weston Homes and site owner Columbia Threadneedle, would have flattened a 1960s shopping centre to make way for 14 buildings ranging from three to eight storeys.

The contentious hybrid application had come in for criticism from heritage campaigners and even prompted a rival proposal by SAVE Britain’s Heritage and architect Ash Sakula.

At the time, SAVE director Henrietta Billings said the organisation was ‘disappointed’ by the council’s decision, warning it risked ‘repeating the mistakes of the 1960s, with its over-scaled and generic blocks of flats’.

The April 2023 consent was the second time the local authority had backed Weston Homes’ plans for the site.

Both Norwich City Council and the government’s planning inspector supported the earlier proposal that would have created 1,250 homes on the site, including some in towers up to 20 storeys tall, as well as a hotel, a cinema and shops.

But Jenrick threw it out, citing ‘design flaws’ and its effect on local heritage assets including several Grade I and Grade II-listed churches. He also criticised the number of single-aspect homes in the proposals.

Broadway Malyan returned to the drawing board, designing ‘a new scheme from scratch’ to address the issues and carry out ‘extensive local community and key stakeholder consultation’.

The developer said that because the world had ‘changed dramatically’ since its first iterations of the scheme in 2016 – including the rise in digital retailing – it was able to reappraise all elements of the scheme’s commercial viability. This resulted in a 35 per cent reduction in the development’s overall floorspace and allowed half of all the homes to be dual aspect, compared with 30 per cent in the original plans.

In April 2022, Broadway Malyan and Weston Homes came back with reworked plans, submitting a hybrid application for the regeneration of the shopping precinct featuring 150 fewer homes, a replacement local centre with 8,000m2 flexible retail and business space, as well as a new community hub, cycling routes, two new public squares and 450 car parking spaces.

Broadway Malyan said the new masterplan had been derived from ‘analysis of the historic, pre-war layout’, including recreating an old street route which would increase permeability across the site.

The practice said new buildings would ‘directly reference Norwich’s traditional residential dwellings, using contemporary reinterpretations of classic brick details and textures found in local streets’.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been contacted for comment.

Broadway Malyan’s approved 2023 plans for 1,100 homes at Anglia Square

The seven reasons Weston Homes walked away from Anglia Square:

  • Planning delays and related costs due to national government intervention in the proposed scheme, including Robert Jenrick’s decision to call in and overturn the local planning consent followed by a further 12 months of local community and key stakeholder consultation on the reworked designs
  • The economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic (2020-2021) which had a major impact on the viability of the proposed office and retail space within the scheme, with the rise in homeworking and digital retailing reducing market demand for commercial space and retail units
  • Further delays caused by the Nutrient Neutrality directive from Natural England which blocked the building of new homes across Norfolk
  • A potential reduction in the £15 million of Marginal Viability Funding promised from Homes England’s Housing Infrastructure Fund. Due to the planning delays, the funding rules meant only £7 million could be released.
  • ‘Huge’ build cost inflation of more than 30 per cent which increased the calculated construction costs of the site and has made the scheme’s viability even more marginal over the last 18 months
  • The £5.4 million community infrastructure levy (CIL) tax bill
  • Design guidelines in the government’s Building Safety Act (2022) resulting in the loss of another 100 homes within the proposed scheme, due to the required redesign of the various buildings