Delight and skepticism at government's £25m investment in Northampton to revive town centre
'This is the help from central government the town needs'
Delight at the government's £25 million grant to redevelop Northampton town centre has been mixed with skepticism from traders and readers.
The Towns Fund cash announced as part of the Budget will be spent on kickstarting a range of projects as well as 'unlocking' further private investment.
The bid was submitted by Northampton Forward, a group made up of representatives from Northampton Borough Council, businesses and the arts created to lead the town centre's regeneration.
Brendan Bruder, of Abbeyross Property Consultants, who represents the Town Centre Business Improvement District on the board, said: “This is the help from central government the town needs.
“Local government and the private sector need the firepower to make good on the aspirations of their communities and Northampton is a business, resident and visitor community ready, willing and now able to make progress.”
In 2019, the government invited towns to bid for up to £50 million from its Towns Fund for capital projects that meet a series of objectives.
Northampton Forward submitted a bid for £37.2 million in December but around £12.2 million was earmarked to redevelop Market Square and Waterloo House.
Those schemes were removed from the bid as the Market Square project is being funded by the £8.4 million granted to Northampton from the government's Future High Streets Fund and Waterloo House has been bought by a private developer.
That brought the bid down to £25 million so in effect, Northampton has been given the full amount it asked for from the government.
Northampton Forward board member and Royal and Derngate chief executive, Jo Gordon, said: “What more could we have hoped for than an award for the full amount sought?
“This money will breathe life into a range of very exciting projects, including some heavy investment into our blossoming Cultural Quarter, and will be the catalyst for a huge amount of private sector investment in the town.”
Northampton Forward's 'town investment plan', revealed a month ago, outlines how the cash would be spent and how each scheme would improve the town after two years of consultations.
Projects include the redevelopment of the old Marks and Spencer and BHS buildings, Four Waterside, a new arts centre on Guildhall Road, an extension of 78 Derngate - The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Museum and more.
The grant will be supported by match-funding of £13.5 million from the council, enterprise zone, the government's Getting Building Fund and the National Heritage Lottery Fund and will unlock private-sector investment worth £156 million, according to Northampton Forward.
Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer said: “This will be a huge boost to the Northampton’s regenerate plans and will make a great difference to the fortunes of the town.
"I want to take the opportunity to personally thank borough council leader Jonathan Nunn, chief executive George Candler and all of their staff for doing all the ‘heavy lifting’ on this application. Their hard work has paid off.
“The chancellor’s other announcement of an extra £300 million for the culture, arts and heritage sector is also most welcome and also will be a timely boost of support for local organisations like the Royal and Derngate, NN Contemporary Art Gallery, 78 Derngate and Delapre Abbey.
"These organisations are the cornerstone of our regeneration plans and to our town’s economic and cultural recovery.”
However not everyone is filled with happiness by the announcement, with many worried about the council's history of financial mismanagement and previous attempts to revive the town centre failing.
Eamonn Fitzgerald, who has been a market trader for 57 years, said: "Everybody is worried about the town centre, it's absolutely dead.
"I know lockdown ain't going to help but it's worrying - I've never worked so hard for so little."
Eamonn, known as Fitzy, said he is concerned about the plans to move the market stalls as part of the transformation of the Market Square and the focus on student accommodation.
He believes the money would be better spent on a new bus station to replace Greyfriars and getting more stores back in the shopping centres and high street.
"I think it's a waste of time as the council has got it in its head about accommodation and they have given up on the retailing side of it," he said.
"They want to revitalise the town centre, they need free parking, that's the answer if we want that but that would cut their revenues."
Meanwhile many people on the Chronicle & Echo's Facebook page were cynical of the grant and restoration plans.
Jane Atkinson wrote: "The council need to move with the times. Towns the size of Northampton, no longer want 'high streets', what is needed is more smaller streets like St Giles Street, with independents, but to attract them the council needs to make their rent and rates affordable."
Dave Anderson added: "Town centre retail was going to die, Covid has accelerated this, I can’t see that pound and charity shops are going to re generate our town centre really.
"I don’t know what the answer is but I wouldn’t want 25 mill wasted on poor attempts to attract the wrong type of establishments into the centre."
And Alan Howard commented: "No amount of money can put the character back into town centre. And unless the rates are reduced you still won't have any retailers."