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TRANSFORMATIVE PLANS: St Helens town deal bid

TRANSFORMATIVE PLANS: St Helens town deal bid

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TRANSFORMATIVE plans that aim to secure vital funds to boost the regeneration of St Helens town centre are expected to be approved this week.

St Helens is among 101 English towns that have been selected to develop a bid for up to £25 million from a £3.6 billion government fund.

The Towns Fund was established in 2019 as part of the government’s promise to level up all regions by boosting productivity, skills and living standards.

It is specifically targeted towards towns with proud industrial and economic heritage that have been left behind in recent decades.

Subsequently, a Town Deal Board was established in St Helens in January 2020 to develop proposals, in the form of a Town Investment Plan (TIP).

The board is made up of local businesses, MPs, members from the local community and other partners, with St Helens Borough Council as the accountable body.

The council’s Labour cabinet will sign off on the plans on Wednesday, before they are submitted to the government on Friday.

“Towns fund investment is key to securing transformational change for St Helens,” a new cabinet report outlining the bid says.

The report says the projects included in the submission have been subjected to “high levels of scrutiny and challenge”.

It adds that it is the view of the Town Deal Board that the plan represents a “strong and compliant bid for St Helens”

Since its inception, the Town Deal Board has overseen the development of the TIP, together with the council as the accountable body, with an agreed focus on developing a set of projects to address challenges in St Helens town centre.

The proposals were required to be framed around three main headings: urban regeneration, skills and enterprise infrastructure and connectivity.

In addition to the three main headings, towns were also asked to consider how the fund could mitigate the impact of Covid-19, with actions tailored to each town’s circumstances.

The government also confirmed that if a town brings forward a project perceived to be of ‘national significance’ the bid could be increased to a maximum £50 million, although this will attract higher levels of scrutiny.

In the first phase the board gathered stakeholder opinions and the available evidence to establish a clear view of the challenges the town centre faced.

The cabinet report says this provided the foundations for the development of a vision and objectives for the TIP, in order to provide a strong context for the development of key projects.

The findings from this stakeholder engagement and consultation were distilled to develop an agreed Town Deal vision for the next 10 years.

“By 2030 St Helens will nurture and celebrate its cultural and industrial heritage, building upon its creative and innovative gene in glass making and foundation-industries to innovate and create new opportunities for the people of St Helens to benefit from,” the Town Deal vision says.

“Vibrancy will be created for the town centre; the town will be a buzzing, shared space where community will come together, learn from one another, improve their physical and mental well-being and be a place where people want to live, work and visit.

“Businesses and residents will be attracted to the new opportunities available, have quality spaces to dwell and linger and benefit from improved transport and digital connections borough-wide.”

Underpinning the vision are three thematic pillars: creating a place where people want to be, shrink and link, and connected communities.

The vision and thematic pillars were then used to develop seven key priorities.

Taken as a whole, these elements provided a strategic framework to enable outline project proposals to be developed for consideration by the board.

A shortlist of projects were agreed, with Glass Futures Phase 2 topping the list as the most significant among them.

Given the Glass Futures project is considered to be of ’national significance’ the board agreed to increase the bid from £25 million to £38.55 million.

The cabinet report notes that the Town Deal is not designed or intended to provide the full funding for project delivery.

In every case each approved project will be subject to a match funding requirement, from sources that are applicable to the type of approved project, prior to securing second stage approval.

This match funding will need to have been secured prior to the submission of each project’s business case.

If cabinet approve the plans on Wednesday, the TIP will be submitted to government before the January 31 deadline.

The first stage of the government approval process will take up to 10 weeks.

If the government approves any of the projects in full or in part, individual business cases will need to be developed and each project will be subject to a second approval stage.

Kenny Lomas, Local Democracy Reporter

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