Shake-up of buildings could create new civic centre for North Walsham

A civic centre, including a bigger library, is one of the ideas flagged up in a possible shake- up of council-run buildings at North Walsham.

Officials are taking a look at a whole range of county hall properties from care homes to offices to the register office and fire station, as part of a review aiming to improve efficiency and cut costs.

Among the plans are proposals seeking to enlarge the 50-year-old library which is said to be 46pc too small for a town the size of North Walsham – possibly by expanding into the youth centre behind which is said to be 'semi-obsolete.'

The expanded facility could be part of a larger civic centre, also housing a relocated register office which, despite a recent revamp, still has a poor location and steep, difficult access.

The proposals have been unveiled in a review conducted for Norfolk County Council, looking at how they can make best future use of the 13 buildings and pieces of land they own or have an interest in around the town.

Currently, the county council says much of its accommodation is not fit for purpose, and it is looking to house the 130 staff it has working in or from North Walsham, in more centralised locations in the town.

As part of this, the review points to the possibility of having the county council's children's services staff and also some of its adult education facilities, currently provided at Tudor House, within the new Phoenix Centre being built at North Walsham High School.

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Another option explored in the review, which was discussed by the county council's corporate resources overview and scrutiny panel yesterday, is to create the new civic centre in the former Connexions youth service office in the St Nicholas Court precinct, or to put a combined youth complex in the building, which would provide a centralised location for council staff involved in children's and youth services.

North Walsham town mayor, Anne Rose, said she believed the plans for a civic centre and expanding and upgrading the library could prove to be a bright light for North Walsham, but said the town council needed to be kept informed of what was happening.

She also pointed to the possible use of the town council offices themselves as more of a civic centre.

She said: 'We would love to be able to offer people more services from the town council offices, and be used more as a civic centre, possibly for people to pick up tourist information or even their bus passes, instead of having to go the district council offices.'

Local county councillors have backed the review, with Paul Morse saying one of the key advantages with the plans was the freeing up of some of the county council's buildings in the town and using the money created from selling them, on other projects.

He also praised the review for highlighting the benefits of combining social and health care at the neighbouring sites of the Rose Meadow home and Cottage Hospital.

He said: 'This is very much a work in progress, I think it is the way forward. I particularly welcome the idea of progressing with the Rose Meadow development.'

Diana Clarke, county councillor for North Walsham west, said: 'We are not doing this from the top down, we want to get local people involved. We will be holding stakeholder events with people to find out what they would like to see in a civic centre, it could be an art gallery or meeting rooms.'

She said the county council is working with both the district and town councils to look at how North Walsham could develop in the future and how buildings and facilities could be put to best use. She said they hoped to have a definite blueprint come out of the North Walsham review proposals by the end of 2011.