Regeneration experts give talk to civic society

‘Berwick and how to regenerate a town’ was the theme at a meeting of Berwick Civic Society.

Friday, 15th March 2019, 12:04 pm
Marygate, Berwick Picture by Jane Coltman

Guest speakers were Ken Dunbar, managing director of Advance Northumberland, and Tony Kirsop, community regeneration manager, who works closely with the Berwick Regeneration Commission and the Coastal Community Team.

Ken started off by setting out what he considered to be the meaning of regeneration; which he said, using the Rs, was about renewal, revitalise, reform, rebirth, reshape and reconnect, but too often it is about remorse.

In terms of the decline of town centres, he assessed this as being a result of years of neglect by successive governments since the 1970s, the emergence of out-of-town shopping caused by a weak urban planning system, the failure to address systematic collapse in a world that had moved on from local to global and a tendency to design places around the motor vehicle.

He highlighted the ‘emerging death knell’ of the rise of internet and online shopping.

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Ken then discussed how to start the path to regeneration, bringing out key points such as the need to really know the place and the people who live in it, regular and high-quality research, including in relation to the surrounding area, building a vision and setting out where you wish to arrive at in set time periods and focusing on animating – ‘creating vibrancy, a destination and an experience’.

In something which Tony also highlighted, Ken emphasised the need to re-think the high street not so much in retail terms but as places for socialising and living.

Commenting on the rich architectural heritage in Berwick, Ken referred to the ‘in between architecture’, as well as the buildings themselves. Regeneration involved considering how spaces are used and perceived. He also added that the approach should be an ‘asset based’ one – that towns, like Berwick, should be capitalising on strengths and it is not about immersing in the gaps and weaknesses.

Finally, he advised of the importance of using policy levers to support the regeneration agenda, to aim for balance and a fusion of physical, digital and experience, relentlessly pursuing investment around the priorities for regeneration and to create a growth mindset – selling an area by promoting future truths for which you are striving for.

Tony started his presentation by setting out the current role and focus of the Northumberland County Council regeneration team, which includes working on the economic strategy delivery plan, identifying corporate programmes and external funding opportunities, strategic transport, employability and inclusion and the large potential regeneration investment through North of Tyne Devolution and the Borderlands Growth Initiative.

He also set out the emerging priorities of North of Tyne devolution, which are job creation for the area with higher pay levels, better opportunities through education and training with a big emphasis on building strong partnerships with employers and business. There is also a focus on creating places where people want to live, which requires more affordable housing and the creation of vibrant communities that provide choice and inspire pride. There is also an emphasis on connecting communities through good quality digital connectivity and local transport.

In terms of the Borderlands Growth Deal, he set out the plans for major growth in the borders region of England and Scotland which involved several different priorities including enterprise, innovation, transport connectivity and employability and inclusion.

Regarding Berwick, Tony referred to the county council and regeneration commission bid for major funding for a new theatre and conference centre. He also discussed other potential funding for Berwick for the uplift for the high street.

He also set out how community regeneration was being led in other towns in the county and the use of town forums and similar partnerships in the 12 main towns, engagement with the network of parish and town councils, the promotion of town and investment programmes and support to the voluntary sector and social enterprises.

The range of help available from the community regeneration team included business support and help with governance and funding bids.