Boxing Day was quite eventful from a local government perspective. Christmas ended, much of England moved up a tier as a precursor to the current national lockdown, and the Government announced 72 areas being supported through its £830m Future High Streets Fund.
In Great Yarmouth we were pleased to secure a provisional offer of £13.7m investment from that fund towards our vision to transform and revive the town centre as a vibrant economic, cultural and community hub. Having been told that for a town of our size we should expect between £5m and £10m, this was a great outcome. We were delighted to secure an offer of nearly 70% of the money we asked for from this national pot.
Working with partners, we deliberately made our vision scalable for different outcomes and have already gone out to tender for redevelopment of the Market Place – a central part of our plans which seek to make our town centre sustainable into the future with a wider range of uses.
Reflecting on the process, there was little engagement from a national level to understand ‘our place’, the challenges we face and opportunities we’re seeking to maximise. This is in contrast to the approach now being taken for the Town Deals. It feels like a more engaging and supportive process, allowing for a level of dialogue which provides a better understanding of the town and our ambitions. Having submitted our Town Deal bid in December, we are looking forward to further engagement during February, when hopefully we will be moving towards agreeing heads of terms for our Town Investment Plan.
Significant Government funding is critical to delivering such transformative change for our place, and it is needed more than ever, as we look ahead to continuing to invest in regeneration and recovery throughout 2021.
The excitement is tempered by the national emergency in the here and now. At the same time, the way many individuals and organisations have selflessly given up their time, and the way councils and other public sector colleagues have adapted to new roles and ways of working, can only be positive and puts us in a stronger position to face ongoing challenges.
Sheila Oxtoby is chief executive officer of Great Yarmouth BC