North Walsham precinct trader’s frustration at lack of action

A frustrated trader trying to make a livelihood in North Walsham's 'dying' shopping precinct says a spring promise of cash to re-invigorate the town has so far failed to deliver.

Back in March bike shop owner Rob McEvoy asked North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) to dip into a �200,000 pot it had earmarked as part of its Leadership of Place project to help the town.

Mr McEvoy wanted about �1,000 to be spent on signs pointing shoppers to the St Nicholas Court precinct.

Four months, and one more precinct shop closure later, he is among only half a dozen remaining traders and, though signs are now promised, they are not yet in place.

'I think they are dragging their heels,' he said. 'We need summer visitors to North Walsham to know we're here. It isn't much to ask and it could make a big difference'.

Since March a further shop, Counting Stitches, has closed in the precinct leaving only Mr McEvoy's Bike Riders, a hairdresser's, florist, bank, launderette and dance school, plus a charity day-centre due to open in a former butcher's.

The precinct's plight was highlighted in the News earlier this year when leading town figures described it as being like the Marie Celeste and dying on its feet.

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On Tuesday North Walsham Town Council agreed to write and urge NNDC to crack on with the paperwork and get the signs in place.

Members are also sending NNDC deputy chief executive Sheila Oxtoby a list of gripes and suggestions, gathered in a small random survey of people in North Walsham, to demonstrate the town's sense of urgency on the need for action to boost the local economy.

Collected by town councillor Liz Cornwall, the list includes calls for more varied shops, a clean-up, free parking, a better road system and some kind of trade fair or market on Sundays.

They hope to discuss it with Mrs Oxtoby on July 19 when she meets the town council to report on the Leadership of Place project.

Town and district councillor Eric Seward, who chairs the project, said it was a pity and frustrating that Mr McEvoy was still waiting for the signs but he had received free business advice.

Mr Seward added that he was encouraged that the new Tory administration running NNDC wholeheartedly backed Leadership of Place which he said was on track, although results could not be expected overnight.

It was hoped that a community development trust, run by local business people and residents, would shortly be set up to drive the project forward and attract more funding.

Mrs Oxtoby apologised for the delay in responding to Mr McEvoy. NNDC was confident of securing a further �50,000 towards setting up projects and some �5,000 to �10,000 of this would be put aside for a feasibility study into the precinct's future, she said.

On Monday the NNDC cabinet will be asked to back the bid for extra cash, and a Leadership of Place report, including an action plan.

The timetabled plan details projects, some involving private developers, Norfolk County Council or other public bodies, ranging from refurbishing town car parks and improving traffic management in Market Place, to redeveloping the derelict shop at 4 Market Street to include new public toilets, and re-thinking the use of council-owned buildings.

'North Walsham is very much a priority. These are big schemes and if we really want to invest in the infrastructure and sustainability of the town, they have got to be seen as medium-term projects,' said Mrs Oxtoby.

District councillor Trevor Ivory, whose cabinet portfolio includes delivering the Conservatives' Big Society ideas, said: 'Leadership of Place is starting to tackle some of the long-standing issues which I think have held North Walsham back. It's a blueprint for North Walsham to take control of its own destiny.'

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