Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is fighting for a share of a Government fund which has been set up to help revitalise the nation’s town centres.
A bid for £420,000 has been submitted to the Future High Streets Fund which is a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government initiative.
If the bid is successful, the money will be used for several pieces of work linked to the wider regeneration of the Ryecroft area in Newcastle which is made up of the old Civic Offices building and an adjoining former supermarket site. Plans to transform the area have stalled because of significant changes in retail trading habits both in North Staffordshire and the country as a whole.
Initial assessments have also identified a potential issue with asbestos in the former council premises which could be extremely costly to tackle. That means a redevelopment to provide large retail units, car parking and accommodation for up to 500 students is no longer a viable proposition.
Council Leader Simon Tagg said: “It’s become clear over the last few years that Newcastle town centre is at a tipping point. We face fierce competition from both out of town retail and leisure developments and service centres based in modern premises. We are already working hard to turn our historic market around and tackle retail vacancy rates that are above the regional average. There are currently too few people living in the town centre itself and work needs to be done to attract more workers and visitors into the heart of Newcastle. We want to create a town centre for all encompassing our day and night-time populations as a new selling point to attract people back.”
At this stage the Ministry has asked for “expressions of interest” in revenue funding from councils across the country.
The Borough Council is bidding for:- £180,000 for a master planning exercise which would involve securing commercial advice in respect of the type and strength of potential development interest in the site.
£90,000 for project capacity to enable a suitably qualified project manager to drive the delivery of the master plan.
£150,000 for a detailed survey of the old Civic Offices to analyse the structure to establish the extent of asbestos and the preferred option for treatment so the building can be safely demolished with no risk to the contractor or the public.
Cllr. Tagg said: “We hope that the Government recognises we have a town centre which has incredible potential. What we would like is some assistance as we fight to unleash this potential. Our key local partners – Keele University, Newcastle and Stafford College Group; the Business Improvement District; Support Staffordshire and Staffordshire County Council to name just a few – are totally supportive of our efforts and together we believe that in time we can put local pride in Newcastle town centre at an all-time high.”
The Government has confirmed an announcement will be made this summer on which schemes will be included in the next phase of the bidding process which will involve submitting detailed business cases by late 2019.