The starting gun has been fired for Norwich City Council's ambitious bid to buy Anglia Square - triggering a race against time to secure millions of pounds to make it happen.

City Hall leaders are next week due to agree that the council should enter negotiations with the shopping centre's owners Columbia Threadneedle over the potential purchase of the site.

Anglia SquareAnglia Square (Image: Denise Bradley)

The council acknowledges the risks of using public money to buy the 11.4 acre site, where housing developers Weston Homes pulled out of a £300m revamp scheme earlier this year.

But Mike Stonard, leader of the Labour-controlled council, said if the 1960s-built complex was in the authority's hands it would help get the site redeveloped in the way local people want.

Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council leaderMike Stonard, Norwich City Council leader (Image: Denise Bradley)

The council would need to get a commitment of millions of pounds from the new Labour government - including to pay for the demolition of the existing buildings - if any deal is to go ahead.

The council is ready to spend £300,000, taken from reserves, to carry out assessments and to put together a business case for buying the complex.

And it will need to find a partner prepared to join forces to redevelop the site - all while the site is on the market for £8.5m.

Jim McMahonJim McMahon (Image: UK Government)

Mr Stonard met Jim McMahon, now a housing minister, in February to discuss what financial help the government might provide.

Mr Stonard said those talks had been "constructive" and that he was confident the government will "listen sympathetically to any requests".

He said: "This is a really important city centre site, but parts of it have been vacant and crumbling for decades.

"It's a part of the city which has faced challenges, which adds to the need to regenerate the area.

Anglia SquareAnglia Square (Image: Denise Bradley)

"It's really important that Anglia Square is comprehensively redeveloped and if the council were to own the land that will help us to do that.

"The benefits would include new homes - and hundreds of them - to meet local needs, the creation of new jobs, both during construction and after it is completed and a contribution of tens of millions of pounds to the local economy.

"The people who live in that area deserve better and we are committed to using all of the council's powers and levers we have to try to regenerate the site."

The council would bring in architects and quantity surveyor to look at the site and consider what could be done there.

It also needs to carry out due diligence - an appraisal to ensure the purchase would be a good deal for the authority and not too great a risk.

The council says it will take until autumn for that work to be completed, during which time leaders will keep up the pressure seeking government help.

The city council's cabinet will make a decision on pressing ahead with the process when it meets next Wednesday.


Plug was pulled

Weston Homes secured permission for the redevelopment of Anglia Square in April last year, after years of public inquiries and legal battles.

However, it pulled the plug on the project earlier this year, with Weston Homes chief executive Bob Weston saying delays had pushed up the costs.

Bob WestonBob Weston (Image: Weston Homes)

He slammed the Conservative government and the nutrient neutrality directive, which blocked the building of new homes.

Sovereign House at Anglia SquareSovereign House at Anglia Square (Image: Denise Bradley)

Demolishing the existing buildings, including the former HM Stationery Office Sovereign House, would cost millions of pounds.

The project was initially due to receive £15m from Homes England's Housing Infrastructure Fund, but delays to the scheme meant that it was eligible for only £7m.

Weston Homes had faced an earlier setback in 2020 when then local government secretary Robert Jenrick blocked proposals which the city council had agreed.

Robert JenrickRobert Jenrick

Mr Jenrick rejected the plans, which at that stage included a 20-storey tower, after branding them "excessive".

A 20-storey tower was part of the original Anglia Square plansA 20-storey tower was part of the original Anglia Square plans (Image: Weston Homes)

The development was also hit by a drop in demand for office spaces as more people started working from home due to the pandemic.

Weston Homes also said changes in government design guidelines meant it would have to make significant cuts to the number of homes.