Friday, 31 December 1999


Benjamin Cabbell Manners
Some of you may recall that a couple of weeks ago, I published a letter that I had sent to my local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, that they didn't publish. With my "very" local paper, the North Norfolk News, having published the letter last Thursday, I thought that I would take the time to explain the situation in a little more detail.

As many of you know, I was raised in the small seaside town of Cromer, which is situated on the north Norfolk coast.

When I was growing up, Cromer seemed liked a thriving town. I may be recalling halcyon days here, but it was a great little town, a nice place to live. As a youngster, there was always something to do. Every shop in Cromer seemed to be thriving. If course, you had your department stores like Woolworths and Jarrolds, and supermarkets such as Rusts and International. 
There was a youth club, and a lovely, small, one screen cinema. There would be many a time where I would sit on the balcony, my arms hanging over the edge, watching the latest flick, be it Star Wars, ET, or the latest Bond adventure. 

Cromer was thriving. It was bustling. It was a fun place to live. But as I grew older, things seemed to change. Shops began to close, and would remain empty for what seemed like ages, only to be reopened as a glorified junk shop, or an estate agent, or a hairdressers. 

The population of the town seemed to change as well. The demographic seemed to get older, as more and more people came to Cromer to retire after a hard working life. An example of this was a story my brother Paul told me. One day he was standing in the Post Office next to an elderly lady. The lady was complaining that Cromer had changed over the years. Paul questioned the lady, and asked her how long she had lived in Cromer. Her answer; five years.  

Then large, out of town supermarkets came to the area. The first was Rainbow, about eleven years ago, although, to be truthful, the Rainbow superstore was on the far outskirts of town. Things didn't really seem to change that much when Rainbow came to town. A short time later, Safeway arrived, building their new store on the site of the old railway yard. Although a very good store, and one I use every week, the introduction of this store was bad news to some of the traders in the town centre. Businesses closed down, shops stood empty for ages, only to be filled by.....glorified junk shops, estate agents, and hairdressers.  

Then, this past year or so, the local council allowed a Sunday market on the Runton Road car park, which is on the main coast road in Cromer. The town centre traders were angered and annoyed by this, as market traders from out of town would take trade away from them during the busy holiday period. 

The attitude of the local council towards the town centre trader was apparent for all to see when one of their number, and a member of the local planning committee put forward a plan of his own. Benjamin Cabbell-Manners is a local farmer, and owner of Cromer Hall. However, with the farming business being what it is, Mr. Cabbell-Manners has seen his fortunes plummet. As a result of this, Cromer Hall itself has fallen into a state of disrepair, mainly to the roof and chimneys. The Cabbell-Manners family have lived in Cromer for generations. They own a great deal of land in the area, and the family itself have done a great deal for the town over the years, including buying a new lifeboat.  

However, Mr. Cabbell-Manners plans to help raise money for the repairs to Cromer Hall have caused a great deal of concern locally. His plan is to open a garden centre on land next to the local council offices, land which is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. His plan is to build the garden centre, and a road which would lead to the building. Of course, there would also be the renovations to the land as well. Add to this the fact that Mr. Cabbell-Manners also wants to take on around forty members of staff. The initial cost of this was estimated to be in the region of £400,000, and we were led to believe that the money would come from the Cabbell-Manners family themselves.  
So the planning committee (minus Mr. Cabbell-Manners) met, and by an overwhelming majority, voted in favour of the garden centre plan. This once again angered local traders, who feared they would again be hit by an out of town shopping development. During the run-up to this meeting, Mr. Cabbell-Manners took great pains to remind everyone that preserving Cromer Hall would be good for the people of Cromer. But Cromer Hall is a private home, and ask your average Cromer resident where Cromer Hall actually is, I doubt as to whether they would be able to tell you. 

Another point here is that Mr. Cabbell-Manners estimates that the renovation of the land and the construction of the buildings and the road will cost some £400,000. If he is going to invest money in the project himself, why couldn't he use the same money to repair his ailing home?  

At the time of writing, even through the project has been approved, it is still causing some controversy in the area, the main one being the accusation of cronyism within the council itself. It does make you wonder though, that if it had been me, your ordinary Joe Public, who had submitted the plan, and not Mr. Cabbell-Manners, would it have been passed? My honest opinion is no, it probably wouldn't have been. But if Mr. Cabbell-Manners' plan could be compared to the Frankenstein creature about to attack the town, then another plan should really be compared to the king of all monsters, Godzilla.  

I don't know about overseas residents, but everyone here in the UK should know of Argos, the catalogue shop. Branches all of the country, the nearest one to Cromer being in Norwich. Not long after Mr. Cabbell-Manners announced his plans, Argos announced plans to open up a superstore on the outskirts of town, once again driving a nail into the coffin of the already established town traders. Although the scheme has yet to gain formal approval, it does look like the council planning committee will pass it through, which means the local shopkeepers will have something else to worry about. Granted, the Argos scheme would probably create many jobs in the area, but how many jobs would be lost in the town centre shops? How many people would be laid off because of poor trade and closures?  

In my letter to the newspaper, I wrote that, a few years ago, there was diversity in the local retail industry. Now there is nothing more than stagnation. Cromer doesn't seem to appeal to young families any more. To quote a gentleman who write to the North Norfolk news a few years ago; "Cromer is now nothing more than God's waiting room, with a collection of junk shops." 

To be honest with you, if it wasn't for the fact that I don't drive and I work in the area, I would have considered moving away from Cromer some time ago. It just doesn't hold the same appeal for me now. Ask your average teenager "What is there for young people in Cromer?", and you'll get the same answer from all of them - nothing, unless you like hanging around arcades or bus shelters. There is no youth club anymore. That building is another one that's been standing empty for years.  

If the garden centre and Argos plans go through, the town of Cromer, and in particular, the retail traders, stand to lose a great deal. As a young friend of mine said to me a couple of weeks ago: "Why doesn't the council just write to every shop owner in Cromer and tell them to piss off?"

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