This page includes background information about the March Future High Streets Fund programme.
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The Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) is a £675million fund from the Government's Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). It was unveiled in the 2018 Budget as part of the Government's Our Plan for the High Street.
The aim of the FHSF is to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that drives growth, improves experience and ensures future sustainability. It will do this by providing co-funding to support transformative changes to overcome challenges in their area, including the rise of online and out-of-town retail.
The Future High Streets Fund Overview contains details of the fund and how it will be delivered and implemented across England.
The Government invited bids for Future High Street Funding from unitary authorities, metropolitan districts, London boroughs and, where there is a two-tier system, from district councils, in England. The funding guidance stipulated that the Government would only accept bids covering town centre areas facing significant challenges.
Fenland District Council submitted a bid for March town centre in 2019. The funding criteria very much matched local Member's aspirations for the town, as well objectives in the.
Following the Council's successful bid, March was one of 72 chosen towns across England to be awarded a FHSF grant.
In common with many rural towns, March has suffered from the national trends affecting the way we use our town centres. However, there are specific local factors that are affecting the vitality of the town centre.
Broad Street is the at the heart of our town. It is a three-lane carriageway which cuts the town centre in half, providing the only connection over the River Nene. Broad Street is difficult to cross and experiences significant congestion which discourages visitors and shoppers. Similarly, the River Nene waterfront is hidden from the public, being difficult to access and impossible to appreciate. The River Nene and Broad Street are major barriers in the town centre and provide a textbook example of local severance.
There are also a number of derelict, unused and underused buildings throughout the town centre. This includes properties surrounding the Market Place with its beautiful Town Hall, units along Broad Street and in the Acre Road area which has a particular concentration. Vacancy rates are increasing, and the town centre continues to lose important retail anchors. There is no 24-hour economy in March, the hospitality and leisure offers are poor, and the available first floor space on Broad Street and beyond has failed to attract residents or businesses. All of this is evidence of a town centre struggling with a deteriorating investment climate and large viability gaps.
To address these challenges, partners now have approval to progress with the following five transformational projects:
· A dramatic intervention to transform Broad Street
· Opening up the Riverside areas to improve visibility and access
· Redeveloping the historic Market Place
· Acre Road Regeneration
· Reactivating Vacant Units and Flats Over Shops grant programmes
The March FHSF programme has been informed by previous community and stakeholder engagement including the work to support the
Having been successful in its application for funding, Fenland District Council will act as the accountable body - this means that we are responsible for the legal and financial management of the funding. We are also responsible for ensuring that the projects are delivered on time and to budget, achieve value for money and meet the requirements of the Future High Street Fund aims and objectives.
Fenland District Council, as the accountable body, holds the responsibility, but to develop and deliver the projects we will collaborate with a range of stakeholders and partners, including the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Cambridgeshire County Council as well as statutory organisations such as the Environment Agency and Historic England.
The £8.4 million investment into March comes from a range of sources, including:
The government requires that the Future High Streets Fund money is spent by March 2024, however, work paid for by the other funders could continue after this time period. We are currently in a period of design, site investigation, planning and procurement of contractors for the projects. These processes will take time to ensure the right solutions are chosen and value for money is delivered.
It is likely that work on the first projects will begin in Spring/Summer 2022.
Engaging with the community and stakeholders is an important part of the Future High Streets Fund process and we will be regularly updating communities on progress.
Whilst decisions have been made about the projects that funding will be used for, we will be regularly posting news to our Fenland District Council website and continuing to promote the schemes through local press and social media channels.