Government funding for towns
In March 2019 the Government (Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government) announced a new Stronger Towns Fund for England (subsequently referred to as the Towns Fund).
This fund, totalling £3.6bn (at Jan 2020) comprises a number of programmes aimed at supporting physical and economic regeneration in English towns, including:
- Future High Streets Fund (£1bn)
- Heritage Actions Zones (£95m), as part of the FHSF programme
- Towns Deals
Future High Streets Fund
On 26 December 2018 MHCLG issued guidance on a Future High Streets Fund and invited local authorities to submit an expression of interest for funding for one of their town centres or high streets by 22 March 2019. In February 2019 further supplementary guidance was issued indicating that, contrary to the initial indication, Councils would be able to submit up to three expressions of interest for individual town centres or high streets within the borough.
In response to the MHCLG announcement, we commissioned an expert consultant team to undertake an independent objective assessment of towns in the borough, and to advise, having regard to the fund criteria, which town centre(s) should be the subject of any expressions of interest.
The consultant’s report, Cushman and Wakefield Future High Street Fund Report (PDF, 231KB), recommended that that the strongest bids could be made for Crewe and Macclesfield, the boroughs two principal towns, and that expressions of interest should be submitted for both these centres.
Furthermore, although the supplementary guidance identified that we could submit up to three bids, the consultants recommended that three bids were not submitted during this first bidding round. Whilst they identified other centres which could be next priority towns, they state that there is no strong justification to single one out. In addition, they identified that submitting a third expression of interest could undermine the strength of the cases for Crewe and Macclesfield.
The consultant’s recommendations were agreed by the Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Regeneration and the Executive Director for Place and expressions of interest for both Crewe and Macclesfield in March 2019.
In July 2019 the Council was informed that the proposal for Crewe had been shortlisted for the next stage, but that the Macclesfield proposal had not.
Since then, the Council has been developing a business case comprising a programme of regeneration projects for Crewe town centre. These need to address the requirements of MHCLG detailed in their published guidance. A draft of this business case was submitted in January 2020, and a final version is expected to be submitted by 30 April 2020, prior to assessment by MHCLG and the Future High Streets Task Force, and an announcement in the summer.
It is noted that a further round of applications is expected to be invited in 2020 when other towns will be given consideration for FHSF funding.
Heritage Action Zones
In May 2019 Historic England invited Expressions of Interest in the High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme which forms a key part of the Government’s wider Future High Streets programme. There were strict criteria for this fund, the main one being that the scheme needs to be in a conservation area in a town centre.
With this in mind, we again commissioned an expert consultant team to undertake a further independent assessment of towns in the borough and to recommend which town centre should be the subject of any expressions of interest.
The consultant’s report, HSHAZ Centres review (PDF, 4.2MB) recommended that Macclesfield performs best against the criteria and an Expression of Interest was submitted to Historic England in July 2019.
Unfortunately this proposal was not one of those selected by Historic England for further development at this stage.
In September 2019, the Government announced that Crewe had been selected as one of 100 towns across England invited to develop Town Deals, which could provide up to £25m of funding for each town to help regenerate their town centre, boost businesses and improve infrastructure.
Proposals are now being developed with key local stakeholders in line with MHCLG requirements.