There could be hope at last for Kettering’s high street with the council preparing for a £25m funding bid.
Kettering Council which has been criticised in recent months for not having a strong enough vision for the town and letting it sink into decline, is now looking to put in a proposal into a new government fund aimed at turning around the country’s failing high streets.
The Future High Street Fund which was announced in October, will be giving £675m to help revive town centres across the country.
Speaking at last night’s (Jan 28) Kettering town forum the council’s executive director Lisa Hyde said it would be highly competitive, with many authorities entering bids, but the council would ask for the full £25m.
She said recent forums had made it clear that the council needed to work in partnership with others to regenerate its high street.
She said: “It can’t just be the council with a vision. We need engagement of other agencies. We need to be realistic and have some clarity on just what we can as a council can do.
“We don’t own the buildings. We don’t set the business rates and some of the decisions that have been made lately have been made in the headquarters in some of these large high street stores. There are lots of things going on that are out of our control.
“We want to focus on what is in our control.
“It is about refreshing our town centre so that it can become a community hub and civic heart.”
The council has until March 22nd to submit its expression of interest and will need the agreement of the council’s executive before it goes ahead. It will use the existing town centre delivery plan as a basis for the bid and strengthen it with new ideas. Private funding will also need to be secured.
Lisa Hyde also revealed more details of a scheme for the central site on London Road. Last year the authority brought the former police station and now owns almost all of the buildings on the site including the cottages and the magistrates court.
Consultants are now putting together some ideas of what could be done with the site and which looks likely to become new accommodation.
The disused county court building on Dryland Street could also be changed to open up access through the middle of the town centre.
At the meeting councillors welcomed the bid idea.
But labour opposition leader Cllr Mick Scrimshaw also warned against filling the high streets with residential properties.
He said: “I am sceptical about more housing. I think we need to tread carefully. Too much housing and we won’t have a town centre left.
His words were echoed by fellow labour Cllr Linda Adams who said: “I really worry about the amount of not particularly decent housing in our town centre. Large blocks of flat with no parking. They are not much to look at. I’d like to see some good quality. We constantly seem to be trying to shove a pint into a half pint glass.”
The authority has been making changes to the town centre over the past year. Last month the one way system around Eskdail street was turned back to a two way. There are plans for improvements at Meadow Road Park.