Dereham shopping centre plans pledge

Rob GarrattFresh hope has emerged that work to finish Dereham's half-built shopping centre could begin within the next 12 months.Rob Garratt

Fresh hope has emerged that work to finish Dereham's half-built shopping centre could begin within the next 12 months.

The news comes as the first phase of the development reaches its fifth birthday, having ridden out the recession without a single empty shop window.

Centre manager Nigel Sizeland said a large national retailer was "very interested" in moving into the proposed second phase, which would act as an anchor for more shops, and that work could begin "this time next year".

The multimillion-pound centre opened to much fanfare at the beginning of April 2005 and staff at the centre's 16 retailers this week marked the occasion with a series of special events.

But despite attracting more than one million visitors a year, plans to complete the centre with a further development of units between Wright's Walk and Norwich Street have yet to be finalised.

Mr Sizeland said: "There continues to be a lot of interest shown by national retailers and local retailers as regards phase two.

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"Down to the uncertainty of the economy and the outcome of the forthcoming election, no retailers have signed up as the anchor store.

"A national retailer is very interested and waiting. It could be as soon as this time next year. All the time Dereham is getting bigger and bigger.

"For me, to see phase two built would be the icing on the cake."

Staff at Wilkinson's celebrated the anniversary by dressing as their favourite children's TV characters to raise money for Children's Hospices UK.

Shoppers were transported back to their childhood with nostalgic recreations of characters like Bill & Ben and Andy Pandy, which raised a total of �275.

Store manager Karen Howorth said: "We have been part of the Dereham community for five years and wanted to mark the occasion by celebrating with our customers - it was also the perfect opportunity for us to support Children's Hospices UK."

The first shop in the centre to open its doors was The Edinburgh Woollen Mill, while the last was Break, which filled the last remaining shop a year ago.

In the last 12 months three shops have changed name or ownership, with Mackays rebranded as M & Co, Julian Graves switching to Holland & Barrett, and Giles Sport becoming Sports Direct, but elsewhere all the original retailers have stayed in place.

Mr Sizeland said the secret to success was careful planning and remaining "low key".

He added: "It just took off from day one, we're always looking to see what was causing the success and we're always looking for ways to improve.

"It's the quality of the shops, it's the variety of the goods; we've brought modern shops to a traditional market town."