Wisbech’a £1.9 million lottery funded High Street project is taking shape says officer in charge
All but one owner has taken up the offer of a grant to improve their buildings as part of the Wisbech High Street project which has £1.9 million of Heritage Lottery money to invest.
Eleven months after taking over the role as Fenland’s townscape heritage officer, Taylena Fletcher says progress is well underway and the public will soon see work start.
“It has taken a lot of discussion and box ticking to get everything in place so work can begin.
“We have needed the relevant planning permissions, agreement from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the various schemes and that is all after we have contacted the different owners and discussed with them the options available to them.
“I can understand people may be frustrated at what appears to be a lack of action, but the groundwork takes time and I have only been in place since January,” she said.
Among the behind-the- scenes work was a planning application for the conversion of the top floors of the JTE building, which occupies 13-17 High Street and is home to four shops on the groundfloor, into flats. There will also be investment to reinstate more traditional shopfronts.
The owner will receive a grant of around 65 per cent of the cost. However, if they sell the premises within 10 years of receiving the money then they will have to pay it back on a sliding scale. Work on this building should begin early in the new year.
Taylena said talks are still ongoing with the owner of number 11-12 – the two derelict buildings – on the same side as Loafers. They will be looking to reinstate the buildings and it is hoped to keep the current facades, but if that is not possible they will be rebuilt to look like the original.
She expects a planning application to go in shortly.
Again grants will be given and in this case Taylena explained the Heritage Lottery project will be paying the difference between the owner’s investment and the marketable value of the property once the work is complete.
“It is going to cost a lot more to reinstate the buildings than they will be worth, which is what has been preventing work in the past, so we will pay the difference. It may sound wrong to do that, but it is the price we have to pay to improve the look of the High Street – something the public say they want to happen,” said Taylena.
Smaller projects include improvements to the brickwork and windows of the Evisons shop, and also works to the windows and roof of other properties including number 25 – the former QS shop – which has recently been let to Co-op Funeral Directors and is currently being renovated ready for them to move in.
Number 2-3 – Shoe Zone – is to be given a facelift, with cleaning of its facade and improvements to its windows, similarly with neighbouring number 4.
However, the owners of 9-10 – home to Bonmarche –have refused to be involved in the project.
Taylena said: “We have spoken to them and explained we could do work to improve the brickwork and repair their windows, but they say they are not in a position to take us up on the offer as they would have to provide some of the funding.
“It is disappointing but Bonmarche’s shopfront and shop is in good repair and so we have to respect their decision.”
The most exciting part of the project is the plans for the gap at number 24. The building has all but disappeared and would cost far too much to reinstate.
Instead a working party has been consulting with the public to come up with a suitable scheme and plans are now well in hand for a community space with a viewing platform above.
The community space will include seating and will, Taylena says, offer a versatile area for people to enjoy as well as a venue for art exhibitions, school performances and meetings.
The viewing platform will offer views over the rooftops of Wisbech town centre – all being well this could be open by Christmas next year.
“This will be a fantastic installation, it will have a life-span of 10 years, which means we are not contravening any conservation rules but the frame built as part of the project will remain and could provide the basis for a replacement building in the future,” said Taylena.
On top of all the physical work to the High Street’s image the project has a lot of community heritage involvement including photographic workshops, and plans are well in hand for courses in heritage construction skills at the College of West Anglia.