Manager insists £3.6m town revamp will help despite objections
- Credit: Daniel Hickey
Council officials and business owners have been attempting to address concerns about £3.6m plans to make North Walsham more "pedestrian-friendly".
The project will see a raft of changes including new pedestrian routes into the town at Black Swan Loke and through the church, a new public garden at Black Swan Loke, pavements widened at Church Street and a new landscaped public space at The Shambles.
The plans will also see the removal of through traffic and short-stay parking from the Market Place, leaving the street open to blue badge holders and loading 24 hours a day.
Jenni Jordan, project manager, said she understands that some of the town centre's shopkeepers are anxious about the changes - but she believes they will bring more people into the town.
"The town centre has struggled. Rather than just chuck money at vamping up the town centre, this will be a different approach," she said.
"I know there are businesses that are very anxious in the town, I totally understand, but there is a lot of evidence that this does work."
She referred to a report published in 2018 by Living Streets, a charity for everyday walking, stating that in towns where the pedestrian experience was improved, footfall increased by 20-35pc.
Shopkeepers have also expressed concerns about loading and parking in the Market Place.
Ms Jordan said attempts to address these concerns include loading bays in the Market Place and moving the parking spaces to Vicarage Street and Bank Swan Loke carparks, where the current half hour of free parking will be increased to one hour.
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"I've worked on projects for 30 years and I've never worked on a project where we've had so much local engagement," she said.
"This is a special town. The project is about bringing a sense of pride and ownership."
Work on a new public area at Church Approach is expected to finish by the end of June, when attention will turn to Black Swan Loke and the construction of a walled garden with a path connecting the carpark to the Marketplace.
Ms Jordan said that work on the Market Place will then be completed in sections rather than closing off the entire street at one time.
'It will bring people into the town'
While a number of shopkeepers on the Market Place have voiced opposition to the plans, arguing that restricted access to the town could result in decreased footfall, some business owners are supporting the project.
Among those are Rebecca Lysaght, owner of the Shambles Cafe on Church Approach, where workers are currently building a public area with terraced gardens, seating and plants.
Ms Lysaght said the project "will create spaces where people will be more likely to loiter and to sit".
"The High Street is not just about shopping anymore, it's also about meeting your friends. This will create a place where people want to be."
Hanna Bouwer, who owns No 26 Clothing, said: "I think it's going to be great for the town.
"New homes are being built.
"It is important to attract those new people into the town centre, to spend their money in North Walsham rather than Stalham or Aylsham, for example," she added.