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Vision would see Thetford transformed into a riverside destination

PUBLISHED: 09:59 19 March 2018 | UPDATED: 09:59 19 March 2018

Thetford's riverside area. Picture: Denise Bradley

Thetford's riverside area. Picture: Denise Bradley

©Archant Photographic 2011

A vision to regenerate parts of a Norfolk town could help it be redefined as a riverside destination.

The Riverside Walk developements in Thetford will be the focus for the waterspace activity. Picture: Richard Glen Associates The Riverside Walk developements in Thetford will be the focus for the waterspace activity. Picture: Richard Glen Associates

Long-term aims to enable boats to access a stretch of the River Little Ouse and the reinvention of its riverside area could help attract more tourists to Thetford.

These are two of the many options explored in a high-level water space study which focuses on the 10 mile stretch of the Little Ouse between Thetford Mill and Brandon Lock.

Commissioned by Thetford Town Council and Breckland Council, the River Little Ouse Waterspace Study looks into projects which will stimulate long-term regeneration of the river corridor in the Thetford area.

The River Little Ouse Waterspace study area. Picture: Richard Glen Associates The River Little Ouse Waterspace study area. Picture: Richard Glen Associates

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The study, developed by Richard Glen Associates, suggested three stages of waterspace development.

The Little Ouse River in Thetford. Picture: Sonya Duncan The Little Ouse River in Thetford. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Stage one is to take “full advantage of the town’s riverside core and promote greater connectivity and activity, both on and off the water”.

Improving accessibility along the river corridor is stage two. It suggests dialogue with the Forestry Commission and other land owners to improve the existing footpath network together with canoe trails “as part of the area’s wider growth and connectivity”.

And stage three is to re-establish full navigation to Thetford. At present the River Little Ouse is navigable upstream as far as Brandon.

Thetford town councillor Stuart Wright came up with the idea for the study.

Thetford Mill. Picture: Sonya Duncan Thetford Mill. Picture: Sonya Duncan

After discussions with the Environment Agency (EA) they proposed a water space study be undertaken.

It is hoped it can help provide a framework for partner organisations, potential funders and other interested parties.

Mr Wright said: “People are drawn to water. Places like London and Bristol have all regenerated their riversides.

“We have got to try and regenerate the town centre as a place for people to come to improve the footfall.

The Little Ouse river path at Santon Downham. Picture: Rebecca Murphy The Little Ouse river path at Santon Downham. Picture: Rebecca Murphy

“So many people drive by on the A11 and they view Thetford as an overspill town and they see the factories and industrial estates but they don’t go into the town centre and that’s the problem.

“When they come in and see the river people think ‘we should be coming back’. Not many places have two rivers flowing through the town centre.”

The Rivers Little Ouse and Thet are part of the town’s heritage. Viking longships used it to transport stone for the construction of Thetford Priory.

The improvements to access the Little Ouse river from Thetford to Brandon. Picture: Richard Glen Associates The improvements to access the Little Ouse river from Thetford to Brandon. Picture: Richard Glen Associates

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Fisons ran a tug to tow lighters between Two Mile Bottom and King’s Lynn but by the beginning of the First World War commercial traffic had ceased.

The study remarks that Thetford has an “enviable waterside setting”.

However, it states: “At present the riverside spaces within the town appear forgotten, neglected and disconnected from the pedestrian and commercial centre, presenting a harsh and unforgiving waterfront in need of revitalisation.”

It adds: “These riverside spaces could be transformed into a thriving, dynamic destination through enhancement of land-based attractions together with water-based recreation and accompanying services.

“This would restore the town’s confidence by providing a vibrant destination within the town to act as a catalyst for regenerating the wider town centre.”

River frontages with cafes, restaurants and seating are suggested in addition to provisions for paddle sports and river activities and festivals.

Improving walking routes along the river and into Thetford Forest are suggested. As well as enhancing connectivity up and down the river to the town centre, they should engage with existing and future communities.

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Four locks and the raising of two pedestrian bridges would be needed to restore full navigation from Thetford to Brandon.

Mr Wright said eight years ago the EA said the locks would cost around £12m.

He said although that is the target, in the short term it is about making the river an amenity.

He said: “We can improve the paths we have, there is a lovely walk from Thetford to Brandon, and we have the train service to get back again.

“There are things we can do which don’t cost the earth but it will make an impact and help towards the bigger aspiration.

“We have the ingredients to make it a real game changer. It just needs everybody to buy into this long term vision. It won’t happen overnight but we can start to sow the seeds.”

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