Breckland Council denies claims it is favouring Thetford over other towns to protect its own investment in Thetford Riverside complex

The Thetford seaside at the green at Thetford Riverside Complex. This is one of the events funded by

The Thetford seaside at the green at Thetford Riverside Complex. This is one of the events funded by Breckland Council. Picture: The Lively Crew - Credit: The Lively Crew

Breckland Council has refuted suggestions it is favouring Thetford over other towns in the district to protect its investment in the £8m Thetford Riverside complex.

As part of its Market Towns Initiative, the district council recently agreed to commit £25,000, for the second successive year, towards providing free entertainment and events in Thetford to bring people into the town and support traders.

Dereham Town Council, meanwhile, will receive up to £1,700 to support a study into opportunities to redesign the town centre.

Dereham Town Council wrote a letter to Breckland Council last month to 'formally request' that it commits £50,000 over the next two years towards free entertainment in Dereham and stated: 'Council tax payers in Dereham deserve the same level of support as those in Thetford.'

Breckland Council said it welcomes applications for funding and is considering the points raised in the letter.

The town council responded by saying: 'The issue is that Breckland Council has decided to use £50,000 of tax payers' money to boost footfall in Thetford. My understanding is that this was initiated and led by Breckland Council not Thetford Town Council or any other constituted organisation.'

Now Dereham Chamber of Trade chairman Stephen Cross has backed the town council's calls for the funding.

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He said: 'I assume it was deemed to be a success as the local authority spent £25,000 in each of two years. If the scheme was such a success why has it not been rolled out to other towns?'

He added: 'If I was a cynical person I would be concerned that Breckland Council has a considerable investment in the retail centre of Thetford. My cynical side would think that perhaps this investment which relies on rental income is not performing quite as well as expected and by using the Market Place Initiative funds they are hoping to bolster the footfall and therefore improve the rental potential of the investment.

'Of course I am sure that the huge capital investment made by Breckland had no possible baring on the decision-making process.

'So I assume that the undoubted success of the scheme will mean that over the next couple of years each market town will benefit from a similar sum of money. I look forward to seeing how Attleborough, Dereham, Swaffham and Watton make use of the £50,000 they should each receive.'

The £8m Thetford Riverside complex, featuring a cinema, hotel and five restaurant and cafe units opened in December, 2016 and was delivered by Breckland Bridge, a joint partnership between Breckland Council and property developers The Land Group.

Breckland Council response:

A spokesman for Breckland Council said: 'Breckland funded a programme of entertainment activities in Thetford after being approached by local businesses seeking support.

'The programme was designed to make the most of the leisure complex area and turn it into a positive space for the community and encourage footfall to the town, while driving away an identified anti-social behaviour issue which was building in the area and on the nearby Butten Island.

'We evaluated the success of the events after the first year and decided to fund a second year of activity in light of the extremely positive feedback and engagement from residents in and around Thetford.'

'Through our Market Towns Initiative, we have allocated more than £200,000 to a diverse range of projects over the last 12 months including a town centre development study for Dereham, the renovation of Swaffham's Buttercross, murals in Thetford, and the purchase of new market stalls for Watton and Swaffham.

'We have a history of funding projects in Dereham and continue to welcome interest from local businesses and organisations who would like to work with us to help address an identified need. As we have only received the letter from the town council recently, we are currently considering the points raised and will respond directly in due course.'