POST-COVID PLAN: Two further Somerset town centres could be regenerated
Two further towns in Somerset could see major regeneration projects as part of a plan for economic recovery after the coronavirus crisis.
Somerset County Council and the four district councils have put together a recovery plan, identifying a number of projects or areas which will provide a boost for residents and businesses once the pandemic is over.
Town centre regeneration programmes are already in the works in six Somerset towns, with district council-led projects at various stages of development.
Now Shepton Mallet and Watchet could be added into the mix in the years ahead, provided that external funding can be secured.
Somerset has managed to secure significant investment from central government in existing town centre regeneration efforts – something councillors hope can be replicated in the not-too-distant future.
Somerset West and Taunton Council received just under £14M from the future high streets fund in early-January, which will go towards improvements to pedestrian and cycling provision in Taunton as well as the Firepool and Coal Orchard regeneration projects.
South Somerset District Council received nearly £10M from the same fund for its Yeovil Refresh initiative, which will see improvements made to the appearance of the town centre and the redevelopment of several key sites.
Bridgwater and Glastonbury will benefit from up to £25M each as part of the government’s towns fund, which seeks to “level up” 101 towns across the UK.
Both towns have already seen the first fruits of this funding, with £750,000 being released for the Northgate development in Bridgwater (being led by Sedgemoor District Council) and £500,000 being provided to Mendip District Council for regenerating the Red Brick Building and undertaking other small projects in Glastonbury.
Under the councils’ coronavirus recovery plan, a “multi-centre town deal” will be created to drive forward regeneration in Chard, Shepton Mallet, Watchet and Wincanton.
The recovery plan was published before a virtual meeting of the county council’s cabinet on Wednesday morning (January 20).
A spokesman said: “We are planning to promote integrated regeneration in a number of towns, including Chard, Shepton Mallet, Watchet and Wincanton, which can potentially be developed into town deals.
“This will build on existing initiatives, including a new masterplan for Shepton Mallet.
“These regeneration schemes will help to create jobs, opportunities and greater inclusion in these towns, and to their rural hinterlands.
“We are planning to provide more detail on this in the Spring of 2021.”
Both Chard and Wincanton town centres are already in the process of being regenerated through projects led by South Somerset District Council.
Chard’s new swimming pool and leisure centre is due to be completed by the end of 2021, with work on Boden Mill, Holyrood Mill and the wider town centre coming forward in due course.
In Wincanton, the council will be consulting on improvements to the public realm in February and is funding a programme of events designed to entice people back to the town centre – including an ice rink, a soap box race and the annual carnival.
The recovery plan proposals will build on these existing efforts and integrate them with new ideas for Shepton Mallet and Watchet, with a view to securing up to £25M from either the towns fund or the government’s new levelling up fund.
A spokesman said: “Starting the process of regeneration will increase confidence, stimulating further investment and development.
“We will assemble a package of private investment and match funding to complement any investment by government in this activity.
“We will convene a town board to lead this project, and will prepare a towns investment plan to demonstrate how he will deliver regeneration across the four towns, to complement the strategic development that is taking place across Somerset.”
In a joint statement, the five councils said further information on the projects would be published in the months ahead, with the intention being to secure funding for a quick turnaround.
A spokesman said: “Many projects are currently being developed and more information will be provided through the various council websites as and when it becomes available.
“Projects, including the multi-centre town deal, are being developed to a stage whereby we can efficiently and quickly apply for funding should the opportunity arise.
“This may take the form of applications to central government and other relevant organisations.”
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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