�200,000 cheer-up for North Walsham

Down-at-heel North Walsham is set for a �200,000 shake-up as part of an action plan to boost the town's morale and help it face the future with confidence.

Representatives from all sections of Walsham's community have been meeting in recent months to pool ideas on improving the town.

And North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) has earmarked �200,000 for the coming financial year to help put some of them into practice.

Schemes on a 'to do' list over the next two years include:

Market Place: deep-cleaning the town centre, widening pavements to encourage a caf� culture, re-jigging the parking layout, and installing new street lights.

Public transport: gathering interested parties together to thrash out improvement possibilities at the railway station; exploring alternative sites for the Yarmouth Road bus stop and providing more taxi spaces.

Eyesore sites: redeveloping long-term derelict plots with affordable homes.

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Council and NHS-owned buildings: sharing facilities, moving services and ploughing proceeds of any resulting building sales back into the town. Sites include the youth and community centre, Northfield Road health and social services complex and former courthouse.

Car parks: refurbishing all, reviewing charges, signing car parks from surrounding roads and providing space for motor-home and coach parking at Vicarage Street.

Some of the projects are pencilled in with target timetables while others have already been allocated funds and start dates.

The schemes are based on the collective thoughts of representatives from groups, including residents, businesses, students, the police, NHS, town, district and county councils, Griffon Area Partnership and the voluntary sector, who have all been meeting as part of a Leadership of Place project, led by the district council.

Council deputy chief executive Sheila Oxtoby said: 'This isn't another talking shop. We are actually putting money on the table. We mean business.'

Distict and town councillor Eric Seward, who chairs the project, added: 'North Walsham is a town which visibly is a real victim of the 2008 property crash. Developers with plans for various sites in the town have just stopped in their tracks and we are left with a number of derelict areas which make it look down at heel. We want to change that. It's a town that needs to regain its confidence and optimism.'

A major developments team is being set up to look at building affordable homes on larger dormant sites including part of the former HL Foods factory, and Bacton Road, near Sainsbury's.

Mr Seward said North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb had written to GB Railfreight, owners of a large warehouse and other land at North Walsham Railway station, asking them to a meeting in an effort to end years of inaction, resulting in a key gateway to the town becoming 'a tip.'

The site was one of a number which Mr Seward said posed particular and frustrating problems because they were in private ownership.

At another, 4 Market Street, the council had earmarked �70,000 for new public toilets to replace those in the St Nicholas Court shopping precinct, as part of the demolished building's approved redevelopment with shops and flats.

But the scheme had been on ice for more than a year awaiting the outcome of a legal wrangle with the Land Registry over ownership of a strip of land included in the project.

Efforts were also being made to track down absentee landlords, including a company in Ruislip, Middlesex, to try and breathe life back into the partially-deserted precinct, according to Mr Seward.

But he said North Walsham already had a future to celebrate with the new cottage hospital and The Atrium, at North Walsham High School - which will provide health, education, and cultural facilities for the community - both due to open in the autumn.

Leadership of Place chiefs are now exploring the possibility of forming a Community Development Trust to drive their action plan forward. It would be led by members of the community, with powers to apply for funding and take over public assets.

Mr Seward added: 'We are not going to sit idly by and wait for something to come along. We have built up a momentum which we intend to maintain.'