Poll: Would you rather see a church or a drug and alcohol recovery centre approved for North Walsham’s struggling shopping precinct?

St Nicholas Court shopping precinct, North Walsham. 1a is the One Stop Advice Shop on the left. Picture: SUBMITTED.

St Nicholas Court shopping precinct, North Walsham. 1a is the One Stop Advice Shop on the left. Picture: SUBMITTED. - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

A church would be a better boost to a struggling shopping precinct in North Walsham than an empty building planning councillors will be told today.

A scheme by the New Life Church to convert the former Connexions youth office at 1A St Nicholas Court is being recommended for approval by North Norfolk District Council's development committee.

If New Life gets the go-ahead, it could scupper an 11th-hour application to open a centre for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts in the building.

Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP)- comprising the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Matthew Project charity and the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners' Trust - wants to use the site from Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm, as a café, for groups to meet and for consultations with clinicians, attracting about 100-150 people per month and employing nine staff.

The run-down precinct has suffered from a string of closures in recent years. The church is currently based at the high school and the Charis centre at the Market Mews. It wants a more central site, with ground-floor access for people with disabilities, for church and community uses.

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An NRP spokesman said the site would be accessible to people who had to rely on public transport. Their clients, who would not include any prisoners, would be on the road to recovery and the building would not be used as a needle exchange or for dispensing methadone.

A report to councillors by the district coast and communities partnership manager says the building is the biggest empty shop in town and the church plan would 'neither bring employment nor a use that would improve the viability or vitality of the town centre'. It would 'potentially frustrate' bids to concentrate retail investment at the heart of the town.

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The town council, which plans to send a representative to argue against approval at today's meeting, says the church would not bring enough footfall. It also suggested the unit could become an indoor market to help smaller traders and attract more shoppers.

North Walsham mayor Dave Robertson said he had only just become aware of the alternative plan and from a personal point of view would prefer it as it would draw more potential spenders to the precinct and create jobs, although he was surprised at the choice of venue as he had thought the town's Atrium would be hosting such services.

He stressed: 'It's not the church we are against. It's the idea of it not being open during most days and not employing people.'

Mair Stockdale, North Walsham Chamber of Trade chairman, said applications for the precinct created a dilemma about whether it was better to accept something which meant the building was used even if it was not a shop, but she hoped the district council would not just approve the first which came along.

The planning summary says the precinct was not designated as a primary retail area so church use was acceptable.

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