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New plans for 'The Gap' after developments enable longer term solution for site

A new development for retail and residential use could now be built at 'The Gap' in Wisbech High Street after major legal issues previously preventing a permanent building from being built have been successfully resolved by Fenland District Council.

Due to previous limitations, there were plans to fill 'The Gap' at 24 High Street with a temporary community space. But a viewing platform included in the proposals sparked a mixed reaction from the public, with many skeptical of whether such a development would fit in with the historic look of the High Street and local conservation area.

The plans were put forward as part of the Council's Wisbech High Street Project, which received a £1.9million National Lottery Heritage Fund grant in 2017 to regenerate the derelict former Cook's butchers site and restore other properties on the High Street.

But after months of behind the scenes work on the project there has been a very positive development, as legal barriers which prevented a permanent building being mooted for 'The Gap' in the beginning have been overturned.

Cllr Chris Boden, Leader of Fenland District Council and Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: "This exciting change in circumstances changes everything and I'd like to thank the officers involved in getting us to this point. The successful resolution of legal issues with the site means a permanent building is now possible.

"In light of the many public concerns with the original plans, we have now boldly reassessed the plans to secure a longer-term and more economically viable solution for the site, which will significantly improve the appearance of the High Street."

The Council has already undertaken urgent demolition works to the rear of the site as well as extensive soil investigations which indicated the need for additional foundation requirements over and above those originally expected.

Given the additional funding needed for foundation work, and the controversial nature of the original scheme, the Council's Cabinet members requested a feasibility study to establish the possibility and additional cost required to replace the temporary scheme for 'The Gap' with a permanent, income generating solution.

Following assessment of the study members are excited by revised plans for a permanent retail and residential development. They agreed it would be the most viable option as the additional cost of construction would be offset by rental income received and said it would be an ideal 'regeneration investment' opportunity under the Council's newly adopted Commercial and Investment Strategy.

Cllr Boden said: "Whilst the temporary, community space development for 'The Gap' was an interesting idea for Wisbech High Street, it had a limited life span of ten years and did not meet with wide public approval, with further development and budgetary consequences guaranteed to arise in future.

"Consequently, the successful resolution of the legal issues surrounding the site and the implementation of the Council's Commercial and Investment Strategy, has presented an ideal opportunity to consider the longer-term development plans.

"The site has been an eyesore for more than 30 years. Replacing it with a permanent, retail ground floor development consistent with neighbouring properties together with residential development above and behind it, would help improve the quality of the townscape and create a more economically viable retail area in this part of Wisbech."

Cllr Chris Seaton, the Council's Portfolio Holder for Social Mobility and Heritage, added: "This is an exciting new chapter in the redevelopment of 24 High Street. There has been a lot of work both with the public and behind the scenes to get to this point, but the resolution of legal issues is an excellent result, enabling us to progress the best possible solution for this site."

Plans for a mixed-use building are still subject to planning permission, and further discussion with The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Article added: June 30, 2020

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