Could £675m high street funding pot be the answer to town centre woes?
- Credit: Archant
Councils across the region are hoping their high street woes will be relieved by getting a share of a government fund for revitalising town centres – but competition is stiff for a slice of the £675m.
The fund became a hot topic this week when Waveney MP Peter Aldous picked an opportune moment during a heated debate on Brexit to raise the issue.
Mr Aldous' constituency was this week hit by the shock news that Coes, a long-standing stalwart of Lowestoft's high street, would be closing, another in the long line of shops across the region that have shut down in recent years.
Other examples to bite the dust include Marks and Spencers in Great Yarmouth, Beales in Lowestoft, Next in King's Lynn and New Look in Thetford.
Shops have cited high business rates and declining footfall as major issues, with the impact of online shopping showing no signs of stopping.
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But councils are hoping that a re-imagining of the high street can spark a U-turn in fortunes.
Councils bidding for a slice of the Future High Street Fund include Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Waveney District Council, King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, Breckland Council and South Norfolk Council.
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Part of Great Yarmouth Borough Council's vision for the seaside town is transforming its centre from a shopping hub into a place of leisure and entertainment, with cafes, restaurants and a cinema taking over empty premises.
The council has also proposed new stalls in the market, creating a 'sense of arrival' in the town centre and improving navigation of the town's network of rows and streets.
The council said that if its bid is successful the funding would be used to progress the key projects set out in the town's regeneration plan.
'The Town Centre masterplan illustrates how, through close partnership work, Great Yarmouth's unique central spaces, and the links between them, can transform over the coming decade to strengthen the town centre as a commercial and cultural hub, meeting the needs and aspirations of communities and the challenges all town centres face,' it said.
Jonathan Newman, town centre manager, said that the council is moving toward attracting more evening economy establishments to the centre, with an emphasis on more leisure use.
'My view is that if there's a town that warrants that sort of support from government, it's Great Yarmouth,' Mr Newman said. 'There'll be plenty of competition for the funding,'
Spearheading Kings Lynn's bid is a partnership between the borough council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk and Discover King's Lynn, the town centre BID.
A consultation with the public, held last month, revealed that the town's people want to see better quality and independent shops and small retailers, as well as better access to town centre.
People also want a better cost/benefit of parking, to feel safe, and more entertainment.
Chris Bamfield, executive director of King's Lynn BID, said there was a 'clear desire' among the public to tackle the negative perceptions of the town.
Revitalising the centre is a significant challenge and 'competition for the funding is going to be tough', he said.
A Breckland Council spokesperson said: 'If we are given the green light to submit a formal bid and this is subsequently successful, the secured national funding would focus on re imagining Thetford town centre.
'The project would improve the local retail and leisure offer for residents and improve connections between the riverside area and the town centre.'
A decision will be made this spring on which towns will be considered for the fund.
Proposals will be assessed according to value for money and deliverability.
South Norfolk Council has put in a bid for Wymondham.
A spokesman said: 'At the moment it is at the expression of interest stage rather than firm proposals on a specific scheme for the town'.
He also said that the council has supported various initiatives and activities in its market towns.
This year the council has put electric vehicle charging points into all of its market town car parks.
Waveney District Council has expressed an interest in the fund for regenerating Lowestoft.
North Norfolk Council was unable to confirm its plans in time for publication.
The Prime Minister has said that the government would be 'promoting partnership across the public and private sectors, including local businesses, in developing plans for the future of their high streets'.