Be more like Ipswich, Norwich told

NORWICH City Council has been challenged to take a leaf out of Ipswich's book and use its powers to force developers to pay for sculptures and other public art.

NORWICH City Council has been challenged to take a leaf out of Ipswich's book and use its powers to force developers to pay for sculptures and other public art.

Civic watchdog the Norwich Society claims the council - unlike its counterpart in the Suffolk town - is failing to make full use of existing legislation to promote public art.

But last night the council said it was not willing to follow the Ipswich model and add more costs to developers because it did not want to discourage schemes which were already under pressure during the current downturn.

Under section 106 of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, developers can be made to sign binding agreements to improve social infrastructure as a condition of being granted planning permission.

They may typically agree to contribute to the building of a new school, library or playground, for example, but the Norwich Society believes the city council should ask them to finance artworks as well.

The construction industry has been lobbying to have section 106 requirements relaxed, claiming their cost is holding back many developments during the recession, and Norwich City Council has been consulting on proposed changes to its own policy.

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In a written submission, the Norwich Society said the council's failure to include public art on its list of possible requirements for developers was a “major omission”.

It added: “Norwich is failing to use a planning tool which could mightily enhance our cityscape, making it more attractive to citizens, tourists and outside investors drawn by the quality of life in our community.”

Many local authorities across the country were already using the legislation effectively to finance public art, it added, including Southampton City Council which had obtained developers' contributions totalling �2.25m in six years.

Norwich Society chairman Alec Hartley said: “If you look at the quality-of-life index, most of the places that score highly have a lot of public art. Ipswich is ahead of us on this. They have had a policy of using Section 106 requirements and they have been left with a considerable stock of public art.

“Think of the number of things Norwich has to celebrate: for instance, shoemaking, brewing, weaving and the football club. We have a huge history and a thriving community life, and what better way to celebrate that than through public art?”

Mr Hartley conceded the recession meant some would not view public art as a priority. “I can see that's quite a strong argument but in one sense there's never a good time, and in another it's the best of times.

“We should be thinking about investing for the future. This is very much an investment in making Norwich appeal to people, helping them enjoy it as a place to live.”

Amy Lyall, Norwich City Council spokesman, said the authority did try to encourage public art where possible including the recent sculpture installations at Hay Hill, and floor plaques at Paper Mills Yard off King Street, but there was no requirement in the local plan for it to be a requirement of developments.

“At this difficult time, it's not appropriate to add more costs to developers,” she added.

Ipswich Borough Council spokesman Max Stocker said: “We work closely with local developers and civic societies to make best use of development and promote public art.

“One prime example was the Jonestown Tableau on the Waterfront in partnership with Persimmon, and we also made full use of agreements at Ravenswood to ensure a full complement of public art.”