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Energising the North’s Town Centres

Energising the North’s Town Centres

Emily Thomson 14 Oct 2021
Summer 2021 saw the announcement of substantial amounts of funding from the Government for various towns across England. For the North East, this means the region is benefiting from approximately £274m of funding, a significant sum which aims to support town centre and high street regeneration. The current North East funding pot is split into three main funds, comprising £172.3m from the Towns Fund, £98.5m from the Future High Streets Fund and around £3m from the High Street Heritage Action Zones. The funding is allocated across various towns, on different scales, throughout the region. So what is happening in the North East? Most recently, Blyth, located in south east Northumberland, has been awarded £21m from the Towns Fund - bringing the amount granted to Blyth to an impressive total of approximately £32.1m, as the town had already received around £11.1m from the Future High Streets Fund. The funding will contribute to the Energising Blyth programme of major initiatives, with the aim of growing Blyth into an international centre of renewable energy and advance manufacturing growth and innovation. This follows from the granting of the new gigaplant factory for electric car batteries in July, on the former Blyth Power Station site. Where does this leave Blyth Town Centre? Well, the funding will support the reconfiguration of the Market Place and creation of ‘Creative Culture Space’ which aims to provide animation, landscaping and play facilities, creating flexible spaces for a variety of uses. A dedicated one-way, bus only route will also be introduced through the town to bring people into the heart of Blyth. These schemes will help to ensure that Blyth Town Centre is well placed to benefit from the planned increases in economic activity across the wider area. What are the next steps and how will Blyth guarantee this funding? Following the grant of funding, there is a 12-month period for business cases to be prepared for each initiative and currently Blyth is in this process with the help of Lichfields. Lichfields has been appointed to a panel to both develop business cases and critically review others to allow for the funding to come forward and the initiatives to progress. As explained in our recent ‘Moving On Up? Levelling up town centres across Northern England’ Insight , Lichfields has been at the forefront of Government funding activity in the North East. For Redcar and Bishop Auckland, this involved inputs to Towns Fund bids, both of which were successful with funding awards of £25 million and £33.2 million respectively. In addition, Lichfields recently obtained outline planning permission for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council  working alongside Ryder Architecture for a new urban park and other mixed use buildings in Stockton-on-Tees Town Centre on the site of the former Castlegate Shopping Centre, which will connect Stockton’s High Street to the River Tees. For Stockton Town Centre, the granting of permission for the new urban park is fantastic news. With a declining retail sector, manifesting itself in a unit vacancy rate almost twice the national average, this park will create an attractive, festival-ready space with the intention of drawing more people in to the centre and generating spin-off benefits for existing shops and services. It will also allow the Council to consolidate the retail offer elsewhere into a more compact core, focused on the Wellington Square Shopping Centre (which the Council also own). As well as Stockton, Lichfields has also helped secure funding for town centre regeneration in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. This funding seeks to capitalise on the cultural and heritage aspects of the town centre. Here, the funding is focused on making the town centre more attractive to visitors whilst making the most of museums and art galleries created by private individuals and the nearby Kynren outdoor theatrical performance at Auckland Castle. Bishop Auckland will continue to capitalise on its heritage assets and bring forward various projects to build upon its success of regenerating the Town Centre. It’s clear that funding granted by the Government is to be used for a variety of initiatives in the North East. It’s a ‘watch this space’ moment, with the successful projects from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund to be announced later this year, which is likely to include a number in the North-East and significant potential to regenerate the region’s High Streets. In fact, Local Authorities are gearing up for this funding and Lichfields are already supporting clients to develop Levelling Up Fund submissions. Please get in touch with our Newcastle Office if you have any queries on this and we will be happy to help. Image credit: Ryder Architecture / Stockton Borough Council