North Walsham town centre could see switch from shops to services in future
North Norfolk's largest town is on the brink of a dramatic change that could see homes, offices and dentists replacing traditional high street shops.
The next generation could walk through a North Walsham Market Place that looks very different to the one used by their grandparents to buy food, clothes, pots and pans.
And the centre of the town could be re-designed to usher in the kind of 'cafe culture' that is a feature of continental cities.
Local councillors are worried that the town may not be suited to 21st century on-line and city mall shopping habits - and want an expert's opinion.
Members of North Norfolk District Council's (NNDC) cabinet agreed on Monday to hire a property specialist to investigate the current and future demand for new shops in the town.
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District and town councillor Eric Seward said North Walsham town centre, like many market towns, was characterised by small shop units.
Nowadays, when they became vacant, charity shops and estate agents were more likely to fill them than the traditional type of high street shop.
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He said it was possible that hopes of attracting more retail outlets to the centre on a larger scale were no longer realistic and the future could lie in a more mixed pattern.
Mr Seward, who chairs the Leadership of Place project - a community initiative aimed at revitalising the town centre - said: 'If that model is no longer viable, we have got to think of other solutions. I'm talking about housing and service industries -–flats, restaurants, cafes, dentists, chiropodists, opticians.'
Plans to improve the centre include widening the pavement outside Coral bookmakers - to narrow the road and deter motorists from waiting for parking slots, causing congestion and a danger to pedestrians.
Mr Seward said it would also create possibilities for a cafe culture, with outside space for tables and chairs.
He also hoped that the centre would continue to attract the kind of independent shops which customers would travel to visit.
'What we can't do in North Walsham is recreate the past,' said Mr Seward. 'Today's shopping habits make that difficult, but we can build on the heritage we have got and make it a more attractive place for people to live and work in.'
NNDC cabinet member and North Walsham resident Trevor Ivory said he hoped the study would settle 'once and for all' the controversial question of whether the availability of larger units would attract national retailers to the town centre.
Monday's cabinet also agreed to pay for an architectural study into ways of improving the look of the largely-concrete St Nicholas Court and its links to Market Place.
NNDC has set aside �215,000 for town centre improvements and the two studies will be paid for out of a separate �60,000 fund.