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Was £1.7m regeneration money well spent for town?

PUBLISHED: 16:12 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:40 29 January 2020

Downham market town square sitting on the corner of High Street and Bridge Street. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Downham market town square sitting on the corner of High Street and Bridge Street. Picture: Sarah Hussain

Archant

A £1.7m scheme saw major investment put into a Norfolk town to enhance and improve its centre.

General View of Downham Market's High Street and Bridge Street, which is soon going to be closed off for a £1.5 million developement of the Town Centre. <co Sue Skinner>Picture: Matthew UsherGeneral View of Downham Market's High Street and Bridge Street, which is soon going to be closed off for a £1.5 million developement of the Town Centre. Picture: Matthew Usher

Work to regenerate Downham Market began in March 2003 to improve the centre of the Norfolk town.

The multi-million pound scheme included contributions from the town council, West Norfolk council, the Government and the European Union.

The revamp, which extended from Bridge Street to High Street, was designed to make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly by creating wider pavements, designated crossing areas and better lighting and improving shop fronts.

It also created the Town Square and relocated the market to the town hall car park.

General View of Downham Market's High Street and Bridge Street, which is soon going to be closed off for a £1.5 million developement of the Town Centre. <co Sue Skinner> Picture: Matthew UsherGeneral View of Downham Market's High Street and Bridge Street, which is soon going to be closed off for a £1.5 million developement of the Town Centre. Picture: Matthew Usher

It was hoped the new-look town would improve tourism by bringing in more shoppers and visitors.

Fears were raised at the time that moving the market to the town hall car park would obstruct access to the Town Hall and would result in the loss of parking spaces.

Jenny Groom, deputy mayor, was involved in the project from the start as a town councillor.

She said the Town Square was designed as an open public space which could be used as a performing and seating area.

Downham Market , street scene on a market day. Dated 24th November 1967. Picture: ArchantDownham Market , street scene on a market day. Dated 24th November 1967. Picture: Archant

Mrs Groom said: "In the period regeneration started we had a vibrant and influential town. It is a bit difficult now and businesses are struggling.

"It was the first and last time we had any sort of significant investment in the town.

"People were resentful of the old market space. Most of the time it was full of cars and when it was empty after a market on Saturday it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.

"It was not a comfortable place to be, there were cars all around and pavements were not suitable.

The Downham Market cafe overlooks the Town clock and town square. Picture: Sarah HussainThe Downham Market cafe overlooks the Town clock and town square. Picture: Sarah Hussain

"Wheelchair users and those that were disabled at the time commented after the changes, saying how they could get around.

"Instead of having car parks in the middle of the town, the square was created as an open space for people to use."

The town received an award for its development from the Worshipful Company of Paviors in 2004.

Downham Market is one of the oldest markets in the country and was given market charter by Edward the Confessor in 1046.

The market, which had previously been on the Market Place (Town Square) since 1835, was moved to the town hall car park in 2003.

Some have argued that the Town Square has not lived up to its expectations.

John Fox, former Downham Market mayor, said: "The idea was that the town square would be used as a performing area so people could sit on the steps and watch performances, but it's never really worked like that."

"My personal opinions are that, with perseverance, the performing area could have been developed more than it has but this development would cost money and time which is not readily available to say nothing of the enthusiasm and persistence required.

"There was an awful lot of arguing and discontent about whether the market should move and some people still don't think it should have.

"There are still people who want to move the market back to the Town Square but I don't think it would be as successful as it is in it's present position."

Mrs Groom believes the project as a whole achieved its objectives in regards to developing the market and safety of streets in the town centre but says the use of the town square as a performing area has "not been achieved fully."

She said: "We have tried to put things on.

"People just don't come forward.

"It is a community space and it's there if people want to put on an open air theatre.

"At the time the appetite from other people was not there.

"It was the case of if people wanted to use it they could, but people have been reluctant to do it.

"We have had things on the square such as music events."

The town council hosted its first live music festival in the town last year.

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