'Not another dormitory town' - what does future hold for community?

The thoroughfare, Harleston. Picture: Ian Carstairs

The thoroughfare, Harleston. Picture: Ian Carstairs - Credit: Ian Carstairs

Harleston is in a state of flux.

The south Norfolk market town has a neighbourhood plan in the works, 360 homes likely to come to Briar Farm on its outskirts and a £750,000 project to revamp its centre on the way. 

For Robin Twigge, who runs the Swan Hotel on The Thoroughfare and has been in the area for 23 years, there’s plenty to be excited about.

Robin Twigge, owner of The Swan Hotel, is a fan of the road closures in Harleston. Picture: Simon Pa

Robin Twigge, owner of the Swan Hotel. - Credit: Simon Parkin

“I would say the next 10 years will be fascinating,” he said. “The town is going through a lot of change.”

He said, working in tourism, Harleston traded off its boutique shops and free parking, rather than having a single attraction which drew visitors in.

While the £750,000 proposed changes to the town have divided opinion - it would make efforts to reduce traffic in the town, including relocation of some parking spaces - he said improving the appearance of the town centre could only be a positive.

But he said Harleston should not “become another dormitory town between Norwich and London”.

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A spokesperson for South Norfolk Council said the work, which would be funded by the authority, Norfolk County Council and Harleston Town Council, was to reduce traffic, create a better environment for shopping and more leisure space for people to meet.

A consultation closed earlier this month.

District council leader John Fuller said the council had invested in Diss’ market triangle and Wymondham and Long Stratton’s town centres and sporting centres.

“Now it’s Harleston’s turn, and we are proposing to invest all that extra business rates income together with some of the extra council tax paid by the occupiers of new homes - the best part of three quarters of a million pounds - in helping Harleston move with the times and be best placed to respond to the changes the pandemic has accelerated,” he said.

“The project stems from the need, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to create a reduction in through traffic in the town centre and now a multi stakeholder project board has produced a plan for a more permanent series of improvements.”

Town Focus in Harleston, market day in the Norfolk town. Photograph Simon Parker

Harleston market. - Credit: Archant

The town is popular for its selection of independent shops, including Ajandek, Daisy & Co, Enchanted Corner, Fig and Roses Florist and The Pod chocolates.

A good community spirit

Paul Muncila has run the Tudor Bakehouse in Harleston for 30 years.

He said the bakery, which also has branches in Diss and Eye, had been consistently supported by people in the town, helping it weather three decades of change and challenges for the high street.

He said proposals to change the town centre were positive, and that while there couldn’t logistically be a total stop to traffic there, slowing it down and reducing it seemed sensible.

“You have to change with the times,” he said, “but there’s a great community spirit here and I wouldn’t want to see Harleston change too much.”

Paul Muncila owner of The Tudor Bakehouse said 30 years have “flown by” as he celebrates three decades in business. 

Paul Muncila of the Tudor Bakehouse. - Credit: Paul Muncila

Proposals for the market place, which would see some parking bays removed, he said, were more complicated - while it was nice to see people enjoying the area as a leisure space, he said it could deter people in surrounding villages from popping in.

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