High street to get £3m to kick-start regeneration plan
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.”
Left, the Whitfield Tabernacle; right, Kingswood High Street in the rain yesterday