High street misses out on funding

Town traders have expressed dismay at a decision not to put Berwick forward for a Government funding scheme.

By Ian Smith
Thursday, 07 March, 2019, 11:05
Shops in Marygate, Berwick Upon Tweed.

Blyth has been selected by Northumberland County Council in seeking support from the £675million Future High Streets Fund.

But Stephen Scott, secretary of Berwick Chamber of Trade, said: “This announcement is a bitter blow for Berwick.

Stephen Scott, Berwick Chamber of Trade

“Berwick Chamber of Trade understand that competition across the many towns in Northumberland for this funding is strong, but it feels that Northumberland County Council has failed to understand and appreciate the unique problems of Berwick and continues to underestimate the vast opportunities that Berwick has given its unique location and its history.

“We understand the problems and challenges faced by Blyth and their case is strong. But Blyth is a very different town from what it was. It has received vast sums of investment over the years. It should now be another town’s turn to receive investment.

“Blyth will always struggle in the 21st century as a town centre with so much competition locally. Berwick in contrast doesn’t have the same constraints, it has no other towns close by and we believe it should be Berwick’s turn to capitalise on this rare investment opportunity. We are very disappointed with the decision.”

Backing for Blyth’s bid was announced by the council this week, alongside its support for the development of a business case for the new Maltings Theatre and Conference Centre.

Mr Scott said: “Berwick Chamber of Trade fully supports the idea to invest in the Maltings and the idea to create

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a conference centre. But this is not a new idea and has been reported before as an investment to be delivered through the Borderlands Initiative. So this old news appears to be being used to placate us over the decision made this week.

“Berwick needs to be ambitious and this decision albeit a setback should be used drive our ambition not reduce it. We wish Blyth well with their bid, but Berwick’s challenge remains and we need to develop a stronger message to deliver to the local politicians that represent us.”

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A council spokesman said: “The council has Berwick high on our list of priorities. Already we have announced a £20m new leisure centre and continue to support the town’s calls for significant investment in a new hospital which would total many millions of pounds. We have also supported applications for funding for coastal communities from Government which have been successful in the last year.

“There are any number of funding streams to facilitate town centre regeneration and we feel that in Berwick this is better achieved through money potentially coming from the Borderlands growth deal than the future high streets fund. This money is available sooner and unlike the future high street fund is more easily accessible by the council, FHF by contrast is only an expression of interest at present.

“The council have put funding in places to develop the plans for the new Maltings that represent a significant multi-million pound intervention in Berwick. We will be working with local businesses and stakeholders to make sure that the development has a knock on effect in the town centre.

“The lack of a FHF application at this stage for Berwick does not rule out a future application, in particular for the heritage element of the FHF scheme, something that Berwick is potentially well placed to take advantage of in the coming months.”

Coun Catherine Seymour, county councillor for Berwick North, admitted it was disappointing news about the Future High Street Fund but she remains positive about forthcoming investment in the town.

She welcomed the county council’s support for the development of a Maltings business case which, she hopes, could secure £26million from the Borderlands fund.

“It’s some very good news to hear that Berwick is to be supported as one of three towns by council in its town investment programme for town centre improvement schemes,” she said.

“Along with all the recent funding secured from county for new leisure centre, Berwick Academy and restoration of Old Bridge we are definitely on the radar.

“Although our high hopes for selection for the Future High Street Fund have been dashed but of the four towns shortlisted, including us, Blyth had a better chance of success for securing this funding from Government.

“I understand we will have another opportunity to submit our interest to the £55million heritage portion of the fund that we will have a stronger case for securing.”

She also hoped Berwick could tap the Government’s £1.6billion Stronger Towns Fund announced earlier this week.