The future ‘brand’ of our market towns

Diss, Norfolk. Shops and Commercial properties in Mere Street in Diss ENGANL00120111019173912
Diss, Norfolk. Shops and Commercial properties in Mere Street in Diss ENGANL00120111019173912

The key to the future of south Norfolk’s major towns is developing them all as “economic centres” for the area, according to South Norfolk Council’s latest proposals.

A new approach to the Market Towns Initiative (MTI), a long-term project ongoing in Diss, Harleston, Loddon and Wymondham, was endorsed at a Cabinet meeting last Monday, emphasising the need to broaden economic growth beyond just the retail sector and the need to “future proof” the towns to maximise this growth.

The Cabinet also approved the appointment of a new “on the ground” Market Towns Co-ordinator, to serve as the main point of contact between the district council and the dedicated Town Teams.

Councillor John Fuller, South Norfolk Council leader and Cabinet chairman, said this re-focusing would allow the initiative to begin building a unique “brand” for each town.

He told the Diss Express: “It’s critical that our market towns stay relevant in the 21st century.

“The co-ordinator will work individually within each town. We want to celebrate each town’s individuality, but when we are promoting, we also want people to have a consistent view of the area.”

Chief among the initiative’s future action plans is a focus on delivering physical projects, such as facilitating deals between investors and landowners or tenants, redeveloping vacant or derelict properties and investing in regeneration programmes in historic areas like the £3 million rejuvenation of the Diss Heritage Triangle.

The proposal also outlined the council’s investment priorities, with a projected £272,000 from the New Homes Bonus funding to be divided up for physical improvements and events, and Cllr Fuller said he was keen for more business owners to educate themselves on the “science of retail” at the Norfolk Retail Skills Academy.

Cllr Fuller added the initiative was also about “improving the fabric” of the towns, to ensure the infrastructure kept up.

“The approach is about treating our market towns as shopping centres and making sure the building blocks are in place,” he said.

“This is to make sure the growth is achieved and to help our shops compete on level terms with the supermarkets.

“We want people to get into the habit of coming to our towns and once they are there, we want them to be pleased with what they see.”