TEESSIDE: More than £35m to transform high street sites
GRANTS coming to more than £35m for major town centre overhauls on Teesside have been officially rubber-stamped by the Government.
Confirmation of both Stockton and Middlesbrough allocations from the “Future High Street Fund” were revealed by ministers on Wednesday.
It will mean Stockton Council’s efforts to knock down the Castlegate Shopping Centre and create a country park will receive £16.5m, while Middlesbrough’s ambitions, centred on the Captain Cook Square shopping centre, will receive £14.1m.
Loftus will also benefit – getting £5.8m for a new skills and workspace hub, a new library and museum, cash to improve green spaces and funding to unlock a key residential site.
Conditional sums for each of the bids were revealed in December.
Middlesbrough Council’s new look executive is set to sign off plans for the £14.1m at a meeting next Thursday (May 27).
More than £9m from the pot will go towards transforming council-owned Captain Cook Square for leisure uses.
The aim is to “rebalance” the amount of retail space in the centre to make it more sustainable.
A bowling alley, boutique cinema, and even a small to medium sized brewery have been touted for the site alongside restaurants and event spaces.
Council officials say the shopping centre project has attracted “considerable interest” from regional and national leisure operators.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston has said in the past how the town centre will be transformed – with the pandemic accelerating the need to act and remove the “over-reliance” on retail.
In April, he added: “The interest it (Captain Cook Square) is already attracting speaks volumes about its potential, and will pave the way for the creation of one of the best leisure and culture hubs anywhere in the UK.
“It really is the game-changer that will underpin the town’s future success and prosperity.”
Chiefs had originally bid for £20.5m from the Future High Streets Fund before receiving the £14.1m allocation late last year.
The rest of the money has been earmarked for other town centre projects.
A total of £3.5m from the fund has been set aside for residential properties – including a 15-storey apartment block and 80 new homes.
More than £1m will go towards transport adaptations and improving the safety of town centre areas while £270,000 has been earmarked for “cultural animation and experiences”.
Cycling infrastructure is also set to receive a £250,000 boost from the Government pot.
Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald also welcomed the confirmation of the £14.1m cash – but didn’t think it would be enough to overcome what had happened in the past decade.
The Labour MP added: “The need for an uplift in the urban environment and major investment in the centre of Middlesbrough is urgently needed
“These funding packages will be readily received but they are totally insufficient to redress the fundamental and massive damage caused by 11 years of Tory austerity and spending cuts which will continue to cause yet further damage.
“But with this pot of money, the task now is to ensure that every penny is spent wisely and that we get the absolute maximum benefit out of intelligent, evidence-based investments and bring much needed well-paid work to Middlesbrough.”
Stockton’s Waterfront ambitions
West of the A19, Stockton Council chiefs have also been busy on work to overhaul the town’s High Street.
The authority received £16.5m of the £24m it asked for as part of its riverside country park plans in the town centre.
Demolition of the Castlegate Shopping Centre and the former Swallow Hotel is the vision to create an urban park three times the size of Trafalgar Square alongside a new council headquarters and offices.
Councillors agreed to borrow an extra £5m to make up the shortfall in the Government cash earlier this year to prop up the ambitious plans.
Stockton Council leader Cllr Bob Cook struck a similar tone to Mr Preston when it came to adjusting the amount of retail on offer.
“It’s important to the regeneration of our town centre to try and reduce the number of retail properties on our High Street,” he said.
“Part of our plan is to knock the Castlegate down and open up the river to the High Street.
“For the past few hundred years, it’s had its back to the river – but we believe by opening it up it will create different ways we can have events in the town centre, and use the river to attract visitors to the borough.
“This is alongside the regeneration of the Globe and the hotel – which is part of the regeneration jigsaw in the town centre.
“The pandemic has seen more people shopping online because shops weren’t open so we’re well placed to combat that on Stockton High Street and all the other high streets in other towns in the borough.”
But he Labour leader did add it was “disappointing” they didn’t get the amount they’d asked for originally from the Government pot.
The funding also comes as the council launches a consultation on the positioning of Stockton Market.
Officials have drawn up five locations, including the option for the market to remain where it is between Stockton Town Hall and The Shambles.
But there are other options on the table for the 700-year-old market – including moving it partly onto the car park in front of the Sun Inn on Knowles Street and shifting it to the northern end of the High Street.
A three week consultation on the options will last until June 13.
Cash from lots of different sources will fund efforts to rejuvenate Loftus.
Redcar and Cleveland Council had asked for £8.5m from the fund – and got £5.8m for its vision for the East Cleveland town.
This will be topped up with £3m from the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) and £575,000 from the council.
Its rejigged plans include relocating Loftus library, improving Coronation Park with better lighting, and better housing.
Sorting out shops fronts and efforts to improve the town’s appearance are also part of the vision, alongside a skills hub, new visitor accomodation and getting commercial uses in empty buildings.
Officials say the first scheme from the fund is due to start later this year with improvements to the roads in the town.
Council leader Mary Lanigan conceded they were disappointed they didn’t get the full amount they’d asked for from the Goverment but had “not wasted time” and had adjusted their plans for Loftus.
She added: “The council has been busy laying the foundations for the transformation and last year a consultation into the plans found that 87% of people who responded supported our ambition to rejuvenate the town.
“This investment will help build upon the commitment the council has already shown in the town with the purchase of the former Barclays Bank building and the former United Reformed Church last year.
“It is now time to turn our ambition into reality and transform Loftus into a modern market town providing facilities and attractions for residents and a memorable destination for our visitors.”
A total of 72 places across the country have now seen their bids confirmed by Government chiefs.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said the funding would protect jobs, support vulnerable people, and “ensure no-one was left behind” as the country recovered from the pandemic.
He added: “This investment will make a huge difference to towns and cities across England and transform themselves into desired places to shop, visit, live and work.
“The Future High Streets Fund will support towns, communities and businesses as we get back to enjoying the best of what the high street has to offer.”
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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