Posted: 19.11.20 at 17:50 by The Editor
A GOVERNMENT funding bid to regenerate Trowbridge town centre with £23 million-worth of cash has been made by Wiltshire Council this year but, despite expectations that a decision one way or the other would be announced by now, it hasn't.
Yet, in the second part of his big interview with Trowbridge Nub News, conducted this week about Trowbridge business now and in the future, council leader Philip Whitehead says there are great reasons to be optimistic about developing a new town high street.
Here, Cllr Whitehead explains what those reasons are and why businesses, who are struggling through this year of lockdowns, should hang in there as positive years should be about to come for the town.
TROWBRIDGE town centre will be transformed with or without the Government's Future High Street Fund.
That is the pledge of Wiltshire Council leader Cllr Philip Whitehead as he and the rest of the County Town wait on tenterhooks to discover if any or all of the £23m bid under the scheme will be approved.
And developing an attractive route with leisure facilities near the main centre of town will be key to Trowbridge's future success, he believes.
Cllr Whitehead said earlier this Autumn that he expected the FHSF decision on Trowbridge – Salisbury have also put in a bid – to be announced at the end of October or start of November.
However, midway through this month, there is still no white smoke from the Whitehall chimneys to indicate one way or another what is going on.
Cllr Whitehead, though, said improvements will happen as plans have been drawn up for it. The only issue is who is going to foot the bill.
He said: “In the longer term, we are looking at significant investment in Trowbridge. We see that straight-forward in terms of a) what we need to do and b) the potential in Trowbridge because I think Trowbridge is a superb town.
“It has got a life in the future which will be different because of the way independent businesses, going back into the high street in other ways, would make it different.”
Asked to clarify what he meant by 'significant investment' and whether this would happen even if the Future High Streets Fund bid was unsuccessful, Cllr Whitehead said it would.
He added: “If it did happen, with (the FHSF). If the high street fund does not happen, in spite of. I still see significant investment.
“I have had these discussions with the staff (Wiltshire Council). We have bounced things around and I know we have to look at leisure facilities in Trowbridge.
“My view is I want to build those (leisure facilities) as near to the centre as possible.
“One of the things that has happened with many towns – and with Trowbridge itself – is that we have made it easy not to go to the high street.
“Whether that is Tesco or the cinema, we have made it really easy not to go to Trowbridge high street. What we should be doing is looking to make it easy to go there.
“So why shouldn't the leisure centre be as close to the high street as physically possible? Because then, you come out of the leisure and, rather than just getting in your car and driving home, you think 'Wait a minute. I remembered I have my aunty's present to get' and then go to the local shop, have a coffee and then go home.
“That is what we need to do which is bring things back to the centre of Trowbridge and that will be our aim for our investment and working with private partners in terms of achieving them.”
This is not a pipe dream either. Cllr Whitehead added: “It sits in with the High Street Fund and whatever else at the moment and, when we know the outcome of that, we will get onto the planning aspect of that, the masterplan of it.
“That is where we are at the moment because it is not worth doing anything more until we know where we are with the High Street Fund.
“But we have got the basic design, which you saw with our submission to the High Street Fund. That is where we want to go with it.”
And he clarified that the plans are in place for what Wiltshire Council would like to do with the centre of Trowbridge.
Cllr Whitehead said: “Yes. Some of it is our investment, which will not be enough, so we will need other parties involved. But that is the aim.
“It is to create that route from, I would say, the cinema (off St Stephen's Place) and those venues through to the high street and make that a very, very strong link.
“And it is not far off being that. It is just things at the moment mean it is not the most attractive routes. That link is key to the success of the high street. Once you do that, you have got a totally different place.
“When you look at how the river (Biss) sits – and Trowbridge is the same as anywhere else – every town has its' back to the river and you would turn it around, wouldn't you?
“I have taken the trouble to walk along the Biss from the bridge just near County Hall (Mortimer Street) and back to the high street (Fore Street). If you were to improve that, was they have the other way to the cinema, you create a different atmosphere and different route throughout.
“I think all of that just needs improvement, some groundwork and some investment and then you are making it a different place.”
All of this is now a waiting game until the Future High Street Fund is announced. Knowing when that happens, however, is knowing how long a piece of string is.
Trowbridge Nub News asked a question about this in advance of our chat with Cllr Whitehead and he replied: “Following your question, I sent an email around (to council officers) saying have we heard? We are still being told it is 'imminent', we are being told it is before Christmas but we haven't got a date.
“We do expect to get some funding. We hope it is the full (£23m) funding. If not, we will work on what we have got.”
But even if the announcement is positive, business in Trowbridge should not expect an immediate impact, despite it being good for the future.
Cllr Whitehead added: “The unfortunate thing for businesses point of view is, even with this funding, it will take time to have an impact. My worry goes out to those businesses that are struggling now and so, fingers crossed, they can survive long enough to benefit from it.
But it is a very bright light at the end of the tunnel because, in the longer term, we can start to do things in Trowbridge that will really improve it which is ourselves, businesses, the High Street Fund and the Town Council all working together in terms of making something much better for Trowbridge.”
Tomorrow in the last part of our interview – Wiltshire Council and their Budget in 2021 and 2022 as the Covid-19 lockdown hits home.