Reader letter: Dereham needs an agreed plan for the Market Place

PUBLISHED: 11:27 22 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:36 22 September 2020

Dereham market place. Picture: Ian Burt

Dereham market place. Picture: Ian Burt

The chairman of aboutDereham has responded to a councillor who urged his colleagues to consider a bus station in the town after seeing “near misses” between pedestrians and vehicles.

Dereham market place. Picture: Ian BurtDereham market place. Picture: Ian Burt

Councillor Harry Clark was recently reported in your paper asking the town council to consider a bus station in Dereham.

He apparently said that this was an “important and long standing issue” and that he regularly sees “near misses of people peering between and round buses and darting across the road.” He makes the obvious point that “there weren’t any buses or large vehicles when Dereham was built, (so) we need a bus station”.

aboutDereham agrees that it is essential to make the Market Place a safer and quieter place for people and to reduce the impact of buses. However, buses are among many issues that are crying out for attention, for example, cars parked in front of shops, the lack of decent toilets, intrusive bus shelters, the need for long and short stay car parking and wider pavements.

We caution against pursuing any one of these issues on its own, without first agreeing an overall plan for the Market Place and, ideally, the whole town centre. Dereham needs an agreed plan, covering both the short and long term that addresses all the issues. Only then can logistical, financial and design matters be addressed. Without such a plan, all councils tend to short term actions, for understandable reasons in a time of financial difficulties.

READ MORE: Reader Letter: Could this be a solution to Dereham’s bus problems?

Dereham, by which we mean all the councils, business, the voluntary sector and the public, needs to agree what it is that the town really, really wants and really, really needs. Our view is that the long term objective is a complete remodelling of the Market Place to provide a wide open space that welcomes pedestrians, visitors and shoppers, reduces the impact of buses and bus stops, and removes kerbs and cars, apart from taxis and disabled access.

Previous attempts to make progress got stuck on the specifics of what to do with the buses and the effect of removing parking spaces. This then led, and leads, to suggestions about how to address just one of these. For example ‘we need a bus station’ or ‘we could reroute the buses along Quebec Street’. This approach does not, in our view, lead to Dereham being a much better place; merely a different place.

The publication of the aboutDereham Partnership’s ‘Vision for Dereham’ a year ago, provoked a considerable response from readers of the Dereham Times. The majority expressed concern about vehicles in the town centre, whether that be cars parking in the Market Place, buses passing through, proximity to traffic on the High Street and concerns about adequate measures to regulate car parks. The Market Place is undoubtedly the highest priority for Dereham town centre if the town is to rebuild its reputation as a retail hub that people want to visit. At present it is woefully neglected and definitely punches below its weight.

The Town Council has done a great deal of work on its Neighbourhood Plan but, unfortunately, this appears to have been deferred indefinitely. It is essential that the town gets to grips with developing a vision for the future of the town centre, especially the Market Place. This would help to ensure that projects such as a ‘bus station’ are not random or inconsistent with the long term objectives. We urge our local councils to work together with us on this, urgently.

While a vision is developed and, in spite of what we have said about the need to work within an agreed plan, there are some short term fixes which we believe would help to quickly improve the town centre; An improvement scheme that makes the most of existing buildings and heritage by replacing intrusive, out of character, shop fronts; urgently introducing a public toilet scheme (as operated by many towns e.g. Kendal) and free Wi-Fi in the town centre.

In conclusion, we would encourage the Town Council to work with in partnership with the District and County Councils and others, including aboutDereham, to develop a long term plan for the Market Place. Once agreed, the councils should then ensure any action taken fits within the agreed vision and the plan.

Mike Webb, chairman of the aboutDereham Partnership

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