by Alex Hurrell , Reporter
Thursday, December 1, 2011
A key building is set to re-open its doors next week, ushering in a double dose of fresh hope for North Walsham’s troubled town centre.
Small is not always beautiful, according to frustrated St Nicholas Court precinct traders’ chairman Rob McEvoy.
Bike shop owner Mr McEvoy says he is grateful, but “under-whelmed” by promised and long-awaited signage directing shoppers from North Walsham’s central Market Place to the precinct.
Mr McEvoy asked back in March if a token £1,000 from a £200,000 Leadership of Place pot, earmarked by North Norfolk District Council to revitalise the town, could be spent on signs to draw more customers to the semi-derelict precinct.
After waiting eight months and making a number of phone calls to remind NNDC, Mr McEvoy says a single sign was finally erected last week.
It measures 32cms by 48cms (13ins by 19ins) and has been placed between 2.5m and 3m (eight to 10 feet) up on the side of Stead and Simpson’s Market Place shoe shop.
“I asked for about £1,000 to be spent and all these months later we get something which must have cost about £50,” he added.
NNDC cabinet member and North Walsham resident Trevor Ivory, who is involved with the Leadership of Place project, said more suggestions to help the precinct would be revealed any day with the imminent publication of a commissioned precinct survey carried out by chartered surveyor Nigel Morgan.
Mr Morgan’s findings are known to include the advice that it would not be cost effective to demolish everything and start again.
Café Kitale and a second-hand furniture shop are due to start trading on Monday in the semi-derelict St Nicholas Court shopping precinct.
It is hoped their arrival will attract up to 200 visitors a day and breathe new life into the moribund precinct.
Both will both be based in the late-1970s’ precinct’s most prominent unit, measuring 2,500 sq ft, which has been empty for more than a year. It once housed the Divine restaurant and later CST Bar and Grill.
The move coincides with encouraging news on another town-centre eyesore, 4 Market Street, where a legal log-jam has finally been cleared, renewing hopes of its long-awaited re-development.
North Walsham-based builder Rob Scammell and a friend bought 4 St Nicholas Court for £75,000 in October when it came up for auction in London.
They outbid North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) which was aiming to keep the building in local ownership, avoiding problems caused in several precinct units by absentee landlords.
Mr Scammell, 48, said both the café and shop would support the Kitale School Uganda charity, of which he is chairman.
The charity built a three-classroom primary school for 290 orphans in Uganda in 2006 which has since been doubled in size, and now a seventh classroom is being added.
A flourishing Kitale charity shop opened in the heart of North Walsham’s Market Place earlier this year, run by Mr Scammell’s sister, Helen Constantinou, but he said they now needed extra space to store and sell items of donated furniture.
“The Market Place shop gets very busy. We will be able to direct people from there to the precinct, which all helps,” he added.
Café Kitale, which would open six daytimes a week, would be managed by his partner, Susannah Fry, and they hoped it alone would attract about 120 daily customers with extra callers dropping in to see the furniture.
Mr Scammell hopes café regulars will include many of the Norfolk County Council office staff expected to move into the precinct’s other large unit at 1A, once the home of the Connexions service which closed in October last year.
The county council is seeking planning permission to change its use from a careers to a general office, housing more than 80 staff moved from other bases in the town as the county seeks to reorganise its assets.
Rob McEvoy, chairman of the precinct traders’ association, has welcomed the Kitale development.
“I think it’s an excellent thing for the precinct. It’s the most prominent unit and it’s been empty and looking awful for so long. I wish him well,” said Mr McEvoy who owns the nearby Bikeriders shop.
Colin Page, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, said anything that drew people to the precinct ”has got to be positive.” He added: ”If you get more footfall there, it might attract more shops to open.”
Mr Page was also pleased that the Land Registry has now resolved a dispute at 4 Market Street in favour of the derelict building’s owner, Mark Tentori, who does not live in Norfolk.
Uncertainty over ownership of a small strip of land has been stalling joint plans between Mr Tentori and NNDC to redevelop the site with shops, flats and new public toilets.
The demolished building has been empty for about five years and stands at a key gateway for traffic entering the town from Cromer Road.
Sheila Oxtoby, (NNDC) deputy chief executive, said they had asked the site owner to let them know by Christmas whether he still intended going ahead with the plans, approved in November 2009.
The council has set aside £70,000 for the toilets, which would form its contribution to the scheme, replacing the nearby outdated block.