Experts called in to save Great Yarmouth town centre

The new Barclays bank in Great Yarmouth market place close to other banks such as Nationwide, Lloyds

The new Barclays bank in Great Yarmouth market place close to other banks such as Nationwide, Lloyds and Halifax in the town centre.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Consultants are being paid £115,000 to come up with ways to save Great Yarmouth town centre.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council, which has earmarked £1m from reserves for major town centre investment, has chosen Carter Jonas to put together a 'master plan'.

The company's retail and town centre consultancy team previously secured planning permission for the 'reconfiguration' of a shopping centre in Ealing, planned a 'new mixed use scheme' for Hayle on the Cornwall coast, and is also working in the London borough of Hounslow, Royal Leamington Spa and Newbury in Berkshire.

They will be paid £75,000 from Great Yarmouth's £1m pot, plus £40,000 from a business rate pool the council successfully applied for through the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

It could take up to 18 months before the plan is implemented - it will have to be presented to local traders, councillors and the public before it's signed off, but council leader Graham Plant said he will press for it to be rolled out within 12 months.

Speaking to the Mercury yesterday, Mr Plant said the decision to appoint an outside contractor was made in around March/April.

The contract was put out to tender on May 8 and presentations were made to council officers on July 1. Carter Jonas was chosen earlier this month.

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'What happens now, and this is the reason it will take so long, is that they will have to present their master plan to stakeholders and councillors,' he said.

'Another reason it will take so long is that it's going to be part of the planning process.

'We're told it could take 12 to 18 months, but I will be pressing for it to be implemented within the 12 months.'

While the council's new Corporate Plan has yet to be agreed on - it has been put back until September, the 10-page document identified the town centre as one of six major themes.

'Strengthening Yarmouth's town centre as the symbol of the borough creating an attractive town centre that is a commercial an cultural hub which showcases what the whole borough offers,' it reads.

'It will be a place where local residents and visitors naturally congregate throughout the week, during the day and into the evenings.'

The master plan, mentioned in the paperwork, will not only see to develop the town centre, but the surrounding central area including North Quay and links to the train station.

And while free car parking isn't part of it - that remains firmly on the table.

'I would happily spend £300-400,000 [of the £1m reserve] on free car parking in the town centre,' said Mr Plant, describing it as 'immediate intervention'.

'We're getting the officers working on it, looking at the impact on revenue streams.'

The £1m reserve is not, however, a bottomless pot.

'It's a limited amount of money,' agreed Mr Plant.

'What we'd have to do is initially have a trial run. We've got to stay within that £1m funding. What we'd do while the free car parking is ongoing is look at what to do next.'

At the full council meeting at Yarmouth Town Hall on Tuesday night, Mr Plant accused the Labour cabinet members of 'pulling £1m from under the bed' - something they strenuously denied.

Cllr Lee Sutton, supported by his Labour colleagues, had called for a cross-party working group to be set up to look at the town centre, claiming the initiative proposed by Labour back in February had stalled.

'Progress is slow,' he said, adding that residents should be kept informed before any decisions on how the £1m was spent were made.

His motion was lost following a vote, but the heated debate highlighted fractures between the different parties of the hung council.

Council chamber discussion descended into shouting, mud-slinging and political posturing.

Labour complained the Conservatives were keeping other groups in the dark on issues from the town centre to plans for a new CEO.

Conservatives accused Labour of name-calling and trying to drive a wedge between the Tories and UKIP. All three groups accused each other of making pre-election promises they had no intention of keeping.

Calling for order Mayor Cllr Shirley Weymouth, chairman of full council, warned the meeting would be suspended if councillors 'could not conduct themselves properly'.

What do you think of bringing in consultants to shape the town centre? Write to Letters, Great Yarmouth Mercury, 169 King Street, Yarmouth, NR30 2PA or email with your full name and address.

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