Petrol station and National Trust shop among suggestions in new shot-in-the-arm report on Aylsham

A 'once-in-a-generation' chance to exploit Aylsham's shopping and heritage charms has been given a whole-hearted welcome by town leaders.

They are now joining forces to push for a package of recommendations listed in a new warts-and-all report, which picks out weaknesses as well as strengths.

Key improvements aimed at enticing in more visitors and their purses, and building on Aylsham's strong sense of community, include:

?? A National Trust shop in Aylsham.

?? A petrol filling station for the town, in a non-intrusive location.

?? Cycle routes to National Trust stately homes at nearby Blickling, and Felbrigg, and an electric minibus 'hopper' service between Bure Valley Railway, the town and Blickling.

? Improved gateways to Aylsham, making use of brown heritage signs, clearing clutter and landscaping roundabout areas.

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But the report is blunt about weaknesses, listing confusion about what Aylsham's Cittaslow status means, and early closing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, among the drawbacks.

The shot-in-the-arm report, commissioned by Broadland District Council and done by London-based specialists Urban Delivery, has already led to the relaunch of the traders' association as the Aylsham Business and Enterprise Forum (ABEF).

It had enthused forum members and other leading town organisations, according to district councillor for Aylsham, Jo Cottingham.

Representatives from the forum, town and district councils, Cittaslow committee and Aylsham Area Partnership were now meeting and working together to turn dreams into reality in the kind of Town Team advocated in shopping guru Mary Portas's report on the state of Britain's high streets.

Mrs Cottingham said they were applying for funding to bodies including the government's Portas Pilots project.

She hoped that by raising Aylsham's profile, more tourists and shoppers would visit and the boost would encourage new businesses to open in the town, creating much-needed jobs for local young people.

Julian Barnwell, of Barnwell Print, said the Urban Delivery project was 'the biggest piece of work for Aylsham in a generation'.

He added: 'Aylsham is an excellent town, with brilliant businesses and good community spirit. But it is fragile because there are so many modern-day pressures from the web and out-of-town shopping.

'There are clear action points, clear leads are being taken and it is bringing everyone back to the table with renewed energy.'

Lisa Dawson, who runs a soft furnishing and interiors business on Penfold Street, said luring in potential visitors, who might otherwise 'turn right at the bypass roundabout' as they travelled north from Norwich, was a key move.

Deborah Blake, chairman of ABEF and proprietor of Boxes and Bags of Fun toy shop in Red Lion Street, said it was vital to take decisive action if the community wanted the town centre to remain healthy into the future.

And Nikki Postle, of JB Postle electrical retailers, said it was time to open up the 'hidden secret' that Aylsham had become.

Among the town's strengths, the Urban Delivery report mentions the buzz on Mondays when the Keys sale is held, several 'extraordinarily special' shops, the attractive Georgian town centre and the strong reputation of Aylsham High School which was recently ranked 'Outstanding' by Ofsted.

Mrs Cottingham said the report had provided unexpected insights and it had been well worthwhile employing a company to look at Aylsham with a 'fresh pair of eyes'.

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