Ambitious plans for Swaffham heritage centre with expanded library, museum and new town hall fall through

Ambitious plans to transform a high profile site in Swaffham town centre into a heritage centre housing an expanded library, museum, town hall and police front desk have fallen through because of a lack of time.

The town council rushed to consider buying the former Hamond's Grammar School when it came on the market with a �395,000 asking price in June, and met other public services who could relocate to the property at 18 Market Place.

The site has planning permission for 14 homes and its owner, the Hamond Educational Charity, hopes to close bids from developers next month.

Councillors last week decided this did not leave them enough time to secure the support of potential partners.

Ironically, a new law to give local groups a six-month period to prepare bids for key community buildings before they can be sold is due to come into effect in October – three months too late for the heritage centre.

Swaffham mayor Terry Jennison said: 'It would have been lovely to have that right in the town centre and have all the various agencies in there all together. It would have been absolutely super.'

The town council would have borrowed the money to buy the site, and had already approached the Heritage Lottery Fund about a grant application to help fund the estimated �2m cost of renovating the buildings.

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The plans could have seen the gym become a new council chamber with conference facilities, the school library turned into the town library, the poultry market given a new home and a Pedlar or Tutankhamun-themed soft play area.

Town clerk Richard Bishop said site would have given the library room to expand as Swaffham grows, and help safeguard public services in the town as cuts get deeper in the next five years.

He said: 'We are all in the same boat. We are all trying to deliver more with less and the only way you can do that collectively is to get services and buildings together. It's the only way you can save costs.

'It's trying to look further down the line. It would be looking at things and trying to say we are putting ourselves in control of our own destiny rather than it creeping up on us.

'I think six months would have been a minimum. Three months would have been pushing it but we only had a month. You are fighting a losing battle.'

He said it was unlikely a similar town centre location would emerge in the future, but out-of-town sites like Days Field or the EcoTech Centre could be considered.

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