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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 

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Welcome news for Yorkshire and the Humber as further Towns Deals and the High Streets Strategy are unveiled…
Earlier in the summer the Government announced the latest iteration of its strategy to regenerate England's high streets. Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up speech’ detailed the Government’s ambitions to re-balance the economy through improving standards of living across the country, growing the private sector and increasing and broadening opportunity. The speech hinted at devolution of further powers to England with individual counties benefiting from their own metro mayor-style devolution deals. Further details will be set out in the eagerly anticipated Levelling Up White Paper due to be published later this year. The High Streets Strategy is central to the Government’s levelling up agenda. It aims to breathe new life into town centres and deliver visible changes through transforming derelict buildings, cleaning up the streets and supporting a renewed sense of community. Councils will be given the power to take over derelict buildings through compulsory purchase orders if property owners stall on regeneration plans. Funding was committed to embed greener forms of transport and measures were outlined to tackle graffiti, litter and chewing gum across town centres. In addition, Government funding will be available to save local venues loved by a community and the streamlined pavement licensing system for the hospitality sector has been extended for 12 months with the intention to make this permanent. 15 further towns deals were also announced helping to support areas to build back better from the pandemic. The High Streets Strategy follows major investment and action from government to level up opportunity and prosperity across all areas of the country, including through the £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund, the £220 million UK-wide Community Renewal Fund, the £830 million Future High Streets Fund, the £3.6bn Towns Fund and High Street Heritage Action Zones. Simultaneous to Boris’ levelling up speech, Lichfields published the ‘Moving on up? Levelling up town centres across Northern England’ Insight report which reviewed the various funding bids and identified six key themes which underpin the plans and strategies: health and wellbeing, education, tourism, heritage, digital and creative, and town centre living. The Insight provides evidence across the North of innovation, optimism and ambition in the town centre sector. Yorkshire and Humber are benefitting from an impressive £531m funding package as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. This includes £96m from the £830m Future High Streets Fund which is helping to deliver transformative change to struggling high streets, while £422m has been secured from the £3.6bn Towns Fund which is supporting imaginative proposals to drive economic growth. A further £13m has been secured from the High Street Heritage Action Zones which seeks to transform buildings which have potential to fuel economic, social and cultural recovery. Earlier this summer, Boris Johnson announced two new towns deals in the Yorkshire and Humber region, £21.6 million for Stainforth, South Yorkshire and £17.5 million for Todmorden in Calderdale. Whilst they are different places, they face some common issues and the new funding seeks to unlock the potential of both towns. Stainforth was awarded £21.6 million to help deliver a number of projects to unlock the town’s potential. The Station Gateway proposals seek to create a better arrival experience through a bespoke replacement overbridge. The Town Centre hub scheme includes a raft of initiatives including streetscape and shop front improvements, a new civic space and a new community hub to drive footfall to the town. A key element of Stainforth’s plans includes restoring the Hatfield colliery headstocks and regenerating the site to provide new employment space for start-ups and a new country park for outdoor events and activities.  Todmorden was successfully awarded a £17.5 million share of the Towns Deal fund to create a new public square in Todmorden to increase community space and highlight the towns green credentials, along with building a five-star eco hostel and setting up a digital enterprise and learning centre. The proposals seek to turn Bramsche Square into a new public square and civic space with a reconfigured Pollination Gardens to enhance its strategic location between three key heritage assets in the heart of the town centre. Nearby on the Lever Street Council owned car park, a boutique eco hostel/hotel is proposed, this will improve and diversify the towns offer and facilitate planned growth in cultural and tourism activities. These exciting projects in Stainforth and Todmorden, and the Government’s High Streets Strategy, demonstrate the widespread ambition to breathe new life into town centres, helping to transform them into vibrant places to live, work and visit.

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