Vision for empty Palmers’ store revealed as £49m town centre transformation unveiled
PUBLISHED: 16:30 05 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:30 05 June 2020
A “bold and ambitious” vision for an iconic empty store has been unveiled at the heart of a £49m bid to transform Great Yarmouth’s town centre.
Great Yarmouth Borough Council have proposed moving the town’s library into the former Palmer’s store - one of a number of proposals aimed at increasing footfall and rejuvenating the town.
It comes as the council officially submit its bid for £20m from the government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF). The council will top that up to reach £49.2m for what it has called ‘an exciting regeneration package’.
As well as relocating the town’s library, the council’s proposals to turn the town centre into a “vibrant, economic, cultural and community hub” will see major improvements to the Market Place, 89 new homes built to redevelop The Conge, a new heritage centre created and funding for green initiatives.
GYBC chief executive Sheila Oxtoby said: “The move is to build on the excellent work that already takes place within the library and the community facilities, as we feel a relocated library would generate even more footfall while being more prominent and creating a learning centre.
“It was always an ambition to have a leisure anchor in the town centre and this could become a reality. We have identified a prominent building within the town centre that could accommodate the library.”
The store has been empty since Palmer’s collapse and eventual closure in March, ending more than 180 years in the town.
Ceri Sumner, director of community, information and learning at Norfolk County Council, said: “If anything, Covid-19 has strengthened the importance of digital literacy, which is one of the things the library is able to provide for residents. As well as public computer access, we have an ongoing programme of support to help people get online and access information and advice and that is going to be more important than ever going forward.”
County council leader Andrew Proctor said: “Norfolk’s libraries already do a lot of great work and they are vital hubs for learning, community activities, tackling loneliness and obtaining training and jobs.
“This is a bold proposal and relocating our library could help even more people as well as playing a crucial role in the future transformation of Great Yarmouth’s town centre.”
To have your say on an early consultation about the proposed library move, go to: norfolk.citizenspace.com/consultation/greatyarmouthlibrary
The FHSF was launched by the government in autumn 2018, with £675m to be shared between successful applicants, with GYBC bidding for a total of £19,927,228, on top of their own contribution of £24,563,709.
Council leader Carl Smith said: “This is a really dynamic offer we are putting in for our bid. It is about building on what we have got and revitalising the town centre to make it a dynamic place to visit day or night.
“This is a real bold, ambitious plan and we are really excited about it.
“We are looking at recovery after Covid-19 and we have got some big shovel-ready projects I feel will assist us in bringing Great Yarmouth forward and looking to future generations.”
The plans would create a “town centre for the future,” with council leaders acknowledging residents’ shopping habits have changed.
Ms Oxtoby said: “In terms of retail, we are not expecting to bring national retailers back into town. We are looking to generate footfall and accepting that people are looking for something different, perhaps even more so post-Covid-19.
“This is about creating a new niche retail, not competing with online shopping. The retailers we have we want to keep.”
Mr Smith said: “All businesses are important to us and over the last few weeks we have been working with them all.
“We might attract some national retailers but hopefully some independent businesses will open up, either on the market or taking shops on. We have a real opportunity here to broaden our horizons for all types of businesses and investment is key.”
The plans have also received backing from the town’s MP Brandon Lewis, who said: “The borough council are submitting a strong bid which would result in transformational change for the town centre and I would like to congratulate everyone involved in preparing it.
“As the MP, I have no hesitation to back this bid and will champion the cause in Westminster.”
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The council is expecting to hear the outcome of the bid later this year.
Market Place improvements proposed
The council is also seeking external match funding to carry out further redevelopment of Market Place, with a planning application lodged to “significantly” improve facilities.
With a design aimed at ensuring the market is “brighter and more inviting”, the bid will also see the events space expanded to “support an enhanced cultural and artistic offer.”
This includes the planting of 50 flowering cherry trees to border the Market Place car park, as well as further improvements.
Part of the application also examines the impact of green and digital advances, including the installation of electric vehicle charging points.
Ms Oxtoby said: “Our repurposing of the high street and Market Place is to make it a pleasant environment where people want to dwell and spend time and enjoy the environment.
“To do this we feel there needs to be more tree planing, more greenery, and more art and entertainment space.”
New town centre homes planned
The plans will see a number of buildings repurposed as flats above town centre shops, as well as the development of 89 new homes on The Conge, between the town centre and the railway station.
Ms Oxtoby said: “We want to create a really strong sense of arrival with a quality build and an avenue of trees taking you into the Market Place.
“We need to improve the visitor experience as you leave the station and head towards the market.”
Ms Oxtoby said: “We have also identified a number of under-utilised properties within the town centre which we are looking to repurpose into residential spaces.
“Most successful town centres have a good mix of residential and office space, so we are looking to generate footfall by bringing people to live in the town.”
In partnership with Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, the former Greenwoods store on King Street is to be transformed into a heritage centre.
Council’s masterplan for future
The council’s vision for the town centre predates the announcement of the Future High Streets Fund, with the publication of the Town Centre Masterplan in 2017.
After a public consultation, the plan identified six key themes, which have featured heavily in the latest submission.
Sheila Oxtoby said: “We recognised in 2016 the need to rethink and repurpose the town centre. The FHSF was very timely when it was announced and the majority of our bid is still reflective of what came out of the masterplan.
“We know from the engagement we have taken throughout this that people want to see the town centre updating, more greenery, addressing the empty shops and the fact the town appears to be run down, and they would welcome more vibrancy which comes from more footfall.
“Each of these interventions are to address issues people have said are most important.
“Our ambition is to design a programme of interventions which are interwoven to counter the social as well as economic decline that we bring together learning and education while building on the town’s amazing heritage as an important fishing and trading port.
“With an enhanced modern market and events space we will use this to promote health and environmentally friendly lifestyles for residents and visitors alike.
“Each of these on their own will not deliver the overall ambition and transformation we are looking for.”
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