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What happens to a town centre when £23m funding is awarded?

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 26 Mar 2021

Nuneaton town centre is earmarked for transformation following significant government funding and the launch of 11 associated initiatives. This is what reimagining a local economy really looks like.

The schemes include the creation of a new Digital Skills and Innovation Centre, the creation of a George Eliot Visitor Centre, the restoration and repurposing of a community hub, upgrading a cycle link, and reimaging Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery. ICAEW member, Chair of the My Town Nuneaton Board and Coventry and Warwickshire LEP Board Member, Sean Farnell, is delighted that the Town Investment Plan for Nuneaton is taking shape.

Nuneaton was one of just 101 towns across the country selected to bid for funding from the Government’s Towns Fund Initiative. The projects, identified following a public consultation with Nuneaton residents, are viable following the award of the funding.

Farnell is Corporate and Specialist Services Partner at Burgis & Bullock Chartered Accountants. He is focused on providing business advice, systems support and growth. “I generally spend my day helping businesses and answering questions about their challenges,” he says. “As a result of that, I developed a very good relationship with the local Federation of Small Business and Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce which is how I got appointed to the CW Local Enterprise partnership Board in 2013.”

“One of the main projects I am involved in is as Chair of the My Town Nuneaton Board to bid for regeneration funding from 2019,” says Farnell. He went to school in Nuneaton and has a keen interest in making sure local economic development is fit for purpose. He was also keen to ensure the board was private sector led, albeit that it comprises a mix of private and public sector disciplines.

“Nuneaton is a fairly deprived town centre. In fact, there are some very deprived wards in the district. It has actually attracted three rounds of investment in the last three years – bringing the total funding to more than £57m – but before that there has been decades without investment.”

He continues: “You can see that the town has slowly been deteriorating. There has been some transport infrastructure built (roads and roundabouts) but as far as the centre itself is concerned, there's been very little investment at all.”

What has been interesting is the extent of local interest in regional development. There were more than 300 responses to the consultation. “You never get that sort of engagement normally. It really goes to show how desperate Nuneaton is for investment,” says Farnell. “The investments range from enhancements to the visitor economy, to the revival of the open spaces, the mobility hub, charging stations, and a large digital skills and innovation centre. We are bringing those digital skills into the town centre from the college, which is presently out of town,” he says. 

“There will be a restaurant training centre as well as a commercial kitchen and restaurant. There will also be enterprise space, together with incubation units and community space as well. And we're installing the infrastructure for 5G in the centre of the town too so that we’re ready to go as soon as we can get an anchor tenant for the 5G project.”

There’s also work to be done around green spaces, safety and the work associated with the Future High Streets Funding. “There's going to be a fundamental shift from what is at the moment a retail dominated town with a massive amount of void units and no night-time economy whatsoever to a mixed work, leisure and retail space. And hopefully, there will be a space that is fit for the community of the future. That’s what we're looking for,” he says.

On top of all that, there’s around 30,000 houses being built as part of the national house-building plan. “At the moment, we've got a town centre that, if anything, pushes people away rather than attracts people. The aim is to completely change that dynamic.”

The project team is now tasked with coming up with detailed business plans within the next three months. “We're hoping that we'll get the first spade in the ground this summer. And the aim is to have all of these projects at least started to be developed within the next 12 months. So, we're looking at a development period of possibly up to three years, certainly no longer than that, for everything to be done and finished. The aim is to achieve all this as quickly as we possibly can and make as big an impact as we can.”

There is a significant proportion of match funding already committed to bringing the plans to life, and there are hopes that inward investment will enhance the plans further. “We've already been extremely successful with inward investment, particularly in relation to the automotive, advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors – which are obviously a big strength of this region,” says Farnell. “We've also been fairly successful over the past decade or so in bringing the head offices of some fairly well-known UK businesses into the area.”

In the final analysis, it is all about change. “Historically, towns, cities and villages were the hub of the community. We know that has gone. We will never go back to having a high street that's 100% retail that has people flocking to it,” he says. “It's high time that a lot of these places are given the attention that they deserve.” 

Read the Nuneaton Town Investment Plan