High street to get £3m to kick-start re­gen­er­a­tion plan

Bristol Post - - NEWS - Kate WIL­SON Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor kate.wil­[email protected]­plc.com

AMULTI-MIL­LION pound in­vest­ment to trans­form Kingswood high street could see one of the most ‘at risk’ grade one-listed build­ings in Bri­tain trans­formed.

Whit­field Taber­na­cle, which dates back to 1741 and is widely re­garded as the birth­place of the Methodist move­ment, has been derelict for years due to com­pli­cated plan­ning is­sues and vi­a­bil­ity con­cerns.

The build­ing, empty and re­dun­dant for a num­ber of years, was left ru­ined by a fire in 2000.

In re­cent years, His­toric Eng­land has funded an op­tions ap­praisal, and sup­ported the lo­cal au­thor­ity in car­ry­ing out emer­gency re­pairs.

And now it has been re­vealed that part of an es­ti­mated £3m in­vest­ment into trans­form­ing the high street could be used to kick-start a scheme which could see the taber­na­cle brought back into use.

Last month West of Eng­land Comined Au­thor­ity (Weca) an­nounced it would in­vest £10 mil­lion in trans­form­ing three high streets across the re­gion.

The ‘Love our High Street’ pi­lot pro­jects will take place in Bris­tol, Bath and North East Som­er­set, and South Glouces­ter­shire.

In South Glouces­ter­shire, Kingswood was cho­sen as the pi­lot scheme and the area is ex­pected to re­ceive around £3m.

The re­gen­er­a­tion pro­posal claims to be “an am­bi­tious pro­gramme geared to de­liv­er­ing long-term trans­for­ma­tion of the ex­pe­ri­ence of Kingswood high street”.

The pro­gramme will in­vest in the devel­op­ment of a Mak­erspace Stu­dio, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to dig­i­tal train­ing and equip­ment for the com­mu­nity.

In­vest­ment will also be set aside for the Grade-1 listed Whit­field Taber­na­cle.

Kingswood MP Chris Skid­more wel­comed the news after giv­ing Metro Mayor Tim Bowles a tour of Kingswood to make a case for its re­gen­er­a­tion.

He added: “It is par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing to see pro­pos­als that look to the fu­ture and seek to in­crease ac­cess to dig­i­tal train­ing for the com­mu­nity, as well as in­vest­ment to kick-start a scheme to bring the derelict Taber­na­cle back into use.

“There will also be long-term plan­ning with the com­mu­nity to breathe even more new life into our trea­sured High Street.”

The an­nounce­ment comes weeks after the Bud­get in which the Chan­cel­lor an­nounced a new Fu­ture High Streets Fund to in­vest £675 mil­lion in Eng­land to sup­port lo­cal ar­eas to de­velop and fund plans to make their high streets and town cen­tres fit for the fu­ture.

South Glouces­ter­shire coun­cil leader Toby Sav­age called it a “sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment for Kingswood”.

He added: “This is a great op­por­tu­nity for us to en­gage with peo­ple and busi­nesses to move things for­ward.

“The Com­bined Au­thor­ity is tak­ing quick and de­ci­sive ac­tion – backed up by sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing – to make progress on a num­ber of long-stand­ing is­sues that lo­cal res­i­dents sim­ply want us to get on with sort­ing.”

Labour Group Leader Pat Rooney said: “We wel­come the award of £10m for high street re­newal in the West of Eng­land and more specif­i­cally the nom­i­na­tion of Kingswood as South Glouces­ter­shire’s pi­lot.

How­ever, we do reg­is­ter our con­cern about the ‘top down’ ap­proach adopted so far.

“We ex­pect WECA and South Glouces­ter­shire Coun­cil to be much more col­lab­o­ra­tive tak­ing this for­ward.

“We find it strange to read that the pi­lot will be ‘partly de­liv­ered by the com­mu­nity’ when the com­mu­nity has not been in­volved to date.”

Pho­to­graph: James Beck

Left, the Whit­field Taber­na­cle; right, Kingswood High Street in the rain yes­ter­day

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