THE coming two years could well define Braintree town centre's future.

With pedestrianisation confirmed and set to be implemented in the next 12 months, change really will be just around the corner for the town.

The impact of the traffic ban and what it will do to the appearance of our high street is not yet known as council bosses begin to work on designs.

But one thing that is certain, and will no doubt leave a big mark on the town, is the £30m regeneration of Manor Street which will begin in just a few weeks time.

The much talked about scheme will see the car park and bus interchange behind the library ripped up and replaced with a mix of buildings and services.

Among them will be a new Travelodge hotel, cafe, flats, health centre and bus station which will be complete and ready for use in just 20 months time.

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By August 2021, much of the project will be completed and it will bring an end to nearly a whole decade of discussions and debate about the future of Braintree town centre.

"When we first put this scheme forward, we had a council meeting where there were demonstrations outside and in the meeting" says Braintree Council's corporate transformation boss John McKee, who has spent years working on the regeneration scheme.

"Everyone wanted to speak against it. There was even a campaign started to stop the regeneration.

"It was originally being done by a private developer but they couldn't make it work financially or sociologically. He wanted to put retail units in but couldn't fill them.

"So we took the scheme over and have come up with something that will work.

"Compared to the previous scheme, I think there were only 12 objections to the regeneration this time around. I'd like to think many of the Braintree residents have accepted this and are behind it."

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The changes to Manor Street form part of a wider plan to make Braintree town centre a destination and place to visit, rather than a shopping centre.

This change in philosophy has been brought about due to a decline in footfall and amount of retailers leaving the town in the past decade.

Some have questioned whether this change in attitude is the correct approach, but Mr McKee insists it will help to re-energise the town centre.

He said: "We'll never bring retail back in my view.

"This is not just our high street that is having this issue, high streets across the country are having to repurpose themselves to become somewhere where people can live, play and enjoy themselves.

"When Manor Street is done, there will be a lot of people spending a lot more time in Braintree and this will attract restaurants and businesses providing entertainment.

"There are already signs of that happening now with the Turkish restaurant going in Bank Street and the wine bar going through planning on High Street.

"There's a new Indian restaurant in South Street, whether that's because of Manor Street I can't really say, but there are signs already that this is the start of a new era.

"The thing we have been doing with the street markets has some bearing on what's happening in the town centre. It's getting a reputation for having entertainment on Saturday's and the footfall does seem to be going up.

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"I think Manor Street is a real opportunity for the district as a whole and for the town to make a statement that we're open for business."

Another key benefit brought in by the development will be the new health centre, which will provide care for up to 20,000 residents in the town.

Mr McKee says the new centre is an example of council bosses listening to residents and getting infrastructure in place before new homes are built.

And he insists the facility will be available to most of those living in Braintree, not just those living close to Manor Street.

He added: "It's not here just to serve the 35 people living above it.

"It's here for the people living in the east or west of the town.

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"Braintree is poorly served when it comes to health facilities. I'm not even sure if there is a high performing doctor's surgery in the town itself.

"The one I go to is understaffed and over subscribed. It's the same for a lot of them.

"So what we are really hoping for with this new health centre is it will relieve a lot of that tension and pressure.

"People will have a choice of surgeries to go to and hopefully a better alternative."

Hoardings are expected to go up on site in the next weeks which will allow enabling works, such as diverting power cables, to begin.

Braintree and Witham Times:

Major construction will then start in the spring and continue until August 2021, which is the scheduled completion date.

There will be disruption for bus passengers and taxi drivers but Braintree Council says this will be kept to a minimum.

To keep up to date with the scheme, or for more information, visit