'There's a lot here to celebrate' - Is this really Norfolk's 'forgotten' town?
PUBLISHED: 16:01 22 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:05 23 January 2020
When Andrew Morton first opened his footwear repair shop in North Walsham 35 years ago, the future was bright.
The high street bustled, and made the North Norfolk town a great place to live for an enterprising businessman with a young family.
But, three decades on, while the 57-year-old still loves the town, he feels it has been put to the back of the queue when it comes to investment in infrastructure.
"It feels like a lot of the development opportunities are going to coastal towns," he said.
"My main concern is for doctors surgeries. It's already very difficult to get an appointment and if the new homes are built that will increase demand even more.
"My children have all grown up now so the situation with schools doesn't really affect me but I can imagine it will be a problem for many."
Mr Morton's fears echo concerns raised by Norfolk county councillor Eric Seward at a county council meeting on Monday, who said his town had been 'forgotten' in the fight for funding.
Mr Seward's comments came after Norfolk County Council (NCC) recently approved a list of locations which are likely to need new schools in the years ahead.
The list did not include North Walsham, despite North Norfolk District Council's (NNDC) draft local plan, which was released in 2019, showing that up to 2,000 new family homes could be built in the area.
Back in the town centre, shop owner Joanne Cannon, who moved from Essex to Felmingham two years ago, thinks that local services will be under a lot of strain if all of the homes were built.
She said: "It is worrying when you think about schools. What if somebody doesn't get a place at the local high school and has to travel to another town or Norwich for their education?
"If the houses are built they are going to have to invest in more schools, doctors, dentists, parks and nurseries to deal with all the new people living here.
"If you think that each of the 2,000 homes will have between two and four people living in them, it puts a big strain on local services."
Mrs Cannon also believes there are plenty of things to be excited about, such as a £975,000 Heritage Fund which will be invested into the town.
She said: "I think the Heritage Fund will be brilliant for the town and could boost tourism massively. The team from Historic England will often come to visit the shops and explain their new ideas."
Over the last year North Walsham has seen success on the high street - enough to suggest it's not been entirely 'forgotten'. Just last week the Hop In, based in the town, was named the best pub in Norfolk.
There has also been an ongoing saga with Wetherspoons as the pub chain hoped to purchase of the former North Walsham Town Council offices - but the plans have been delayed since 2016 over a right-of-way dispute.
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Mandy Greenwood, who has lived in North Walsham all of her life has seen many the ups and down of her local high street.
The 69-year-old said: "Over the last year I think there has been a big change to the high street. A lot of the empty shops have reopened and the town seems busier.
"I have been following the thoughts from the town council to only allow pedestrians in the town. I think pedestrianisation would kill business for the independent shops.
"The parking which is free for 30 minutes in the high street is the only reason I keep coming here to get everything I need. How am I supposed to carry my heavy shopping back on the bus?"
Looking forward to the future, Mrs Greenwood is concerned for her three grandchildren.
She said: "I'm seriously concerned for younger generations in regards to not having enough school places or doctors, it's something the council should be looking at."
Despite his concerns, even Mr Morton thinks there is much to shout about.
He said: "I don't think North Walsham is forgotten but I do feel like we need to push to promote the town more. There are a lot of brilliant and new businesses here and a lot to celebrate."
Why concerns were raised
Concerns were raised after Norfolk County Council (NCC) recently approved a list of locations which are likely to need new schools in the years ahead.
However, at a meeting of NCC on January 20, the councillor for North Walsham East, Eric Seward, questioned why the town was not listed in the report.
John Fisher, Conservative cabinet member for children's services, said: "At the moment, North Walsham is being worked on.
"We haven't got any specific plans at the minute, but as they do come on-line, as houses come on-line, I can assure all councillors here we are fully up to speed and will have new schools in place.
Mr Seward said: "The reply I received was totally inadequate. It was suggested the need for a new school was still being worked upon.
"If North Walsham is to have a new school in time it needs to be in the Council future expenditure plans now."
A spokesperson from North Norfolk District Council said: "North Norfolk District Council is committed to the regeneration and improvement of the historic town centre of North Walsham, as demonstrated in the recent rounds of Market Town Initiative funding which saw around £100,00 toward (amongst other things) the revitalisation of St.Nicholas' Court.
"There are more exciting plans for the town centre in the form of anticipated funding of up to £1m from Historic England, which will be match funded by NNDC, to become a Heritage Action Zone.
"This ambitious design programme hopes to see improvements that will support the vitality of the town centre for the benefit of the vibrant local community and visitors to the town."