Ambitious plans which would see £3.1 million of investment to transform the historic part of Diss known as the Heritage Triangle were backed by the town council on Wednesday night.
Four main elements are key to the project.
Firstly, Diss Corn Hall would receive the biggest chunk of the money, partly to fix ongoing structural issues, but also to develop the building into a modern arts venue, better fit for its purpose.
The “largely unnoticed and unappreciated” streets and yards which make up the triangle, St Nicholas Street, the top of Market Place and Market Hill, will be developed so that the area will be treated as a single space - rather than divided into paths, roads and interconnecting alleyways.
The road level will be raised to match the pathways and ramps will slow traffic entering the triangle. The hoped-for result is that pedestrians will want to linger longer in the town and explore its shops and heritage.
A third element is a floating boardwalk on Diss Mere, running from King’s Head Yard, off Mere Street, via Hales Yard, off Market Place, and linking to a new ‘floating island’ at the end of the Diss Town Council garden, off Market Hill.
The council was told that the boardwalk would take advantage of arguably Diss’ most stunning feature, which is currently not visible from the Triangle. The boardwalk would give visitors the impression of “walking on water”.
It would also glow in the dark, absorbing light in the day, and giving it out at night, which, the council was told, would make for a stunning visual appearance from other parts of the Mereside.
A fourth element of the plans, presented to the council by Sheila King, the consultant who is co-ordinating the bid, would be activities within the Triangle and the interpretation of its history.
This less tangible element would see the story of the evolution of the Triangle told to visitors.
This will be achieved with signposts, as well as ‘interpretation posts’ which can be accessed via smartphones or tablets, to give even greater depth of information.
Diss Museum and the Corn Hall would also play host to exhibits about the area’s history.
Money is the crucial factor, and the success hinges on a £1.5 million bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will be submitted in mid-May.
Wednesday’s town council meeting sought approval of councillors to submit the plans as proposed - important as it is the town council that owns Diss Corn Hall and much of the land affected by the plans, including the Mere itself.
Mrs King said: “We currently have £1.9 million pledged to date.
We are still short and are pursuing investment opportunities, with various other bodies.”
Diss Town Council has already pledged £200,000 of its own money, knowing that they were already facing a large bill over the coming years to fix the Corn Hall’s leaky roof and an exterior wall suffering from damp and letting water in.
They will hear from the Heritage Lottery Fund in September if the bid is approved. The Corn Hall would be shut for a year from July 2015, reopening the following summer.
Timescales for the boardwalk work, and the changes to the Triangle area roads and paths have not yet been set down, but would seek to avoid disruption to traders, particularly around Christmas.
It is expected that a Heritage Triangle Trust would be responsible for promoting and maintaining the project, outside of the Corn Hall. It is estimated that the project will raise enough revenue to support a part time job.
Diss Corn Hall would be given a new single span roof, while the current 1970s extension at the back would be removed and replaced with a new foyer, box office, bar and kitchen. There will also be exhibition space.