The heritage officer driving a National Lottery-funded project to regenerate Wisbech High Street has responded to a ‘Marmite’ reaction to plans for ‘The Gap’.
Love it or hate it, people have been taking to social media to air their views on proposals to turn the derelict gap at No 24 into a contemporary, multi-functional, community space.
Redeveloping The Gap site – which has stood empty for over 30 years following the collapse of the former Cooks Butchers shop – is just one part of the Wisbech High Street Project, which is being delivered by Fenland District Council and a raft of community representatives with a £1.9 million National Lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Plans to fill the gap with an “inspiring area of public realm” are estimated to cost in the region of £300,000-£350,000, with the rest of the grant secured being spent on creating new flats and shops and restoring a number of other High Street buildings.
Taleyna Fletcher, Townscape Heritage Officer for the project, said: “Plans for The Gap have had a bit of a ‘Marmite’ reaction; people either seem to love it or hate it.
“Those who love it say the design is modern and forward-thinking and will replace an existing eyesore with a structure that will have a wide range of community uses and benefits.
“It will have the ‘wow’ factor that people said they wanted during the various public consultation stages, and is part of a much bigger project that will bring a number of other High Street buildings back to their former glory.”
Miss Fletcher explained that the design being proposed for The Gap is a temporary one as complex legal issues with the site mean a permanent building cannot be built at this time.
“The design does include a permanent metal structure however, which will be able to accommodate any future building when more funding becomes available and the legal issues can be addressed,” she said.
“In the meantime, this National Lottery funding will enable us to bring the site back into public use in the next couple of years, creating a valuable community space while we plan longer term for its future.”
Councillor David Oliver, Fenland District Council’s portfolio holder for heritage, said The Gap would have a number of community uses, and a proposed viewing platform upstairs would offer great views across the historic town and beyond.
“It could be used for a variety of events and activities, such as craft workshops, art and photography exhibitions and drama performances, as well as be privately hired for parties, functions, business and corporate launches or events,” he said.
“The new structure is just one part of the whole Wisbech High Street Project, which will breathe new life into the area, improve the look of the main gateway into the town centre, and in turn boost the town’s economy and tourism prospects.”
The general management of The Gap would be the responsibility of ‘Mind the Gap’, a group made up of representatives from Fenland District Council, Wisbech Town Council, The Wisbech Society, Ferry Project and Street Pride. The group has been working closely with the project team to influence the design and help devise a management and maintenance strategy for the running of the site.