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Council's Future High Street Fund bid for March goes forward to next stage

Plans to revive March town centre have been given a financial boost after a bid from Fenland District Council was shortlisted as part of a £675m government fund.

The Council has got through to the second round of the Future High Streets Fund (FHSF), which aims to transform town centres and make them "fit for the future".

March is one of just 50 town centres in the country to go forward into the next phase of assessment, with each area receiving up to £150,000 of funding to develop detailed project proposals, based on their initial plans.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will work closely with the successful areas, focusing on places that have "shovel ready" projects where there might be opportunities to accelerate these.

The news comes as a further regeneration boost for March, with strategic work to help the town adapt and thrive already underway as part of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority's Masterplan for Growth initiative, known locally as Growing Fenland.

Fenland District Council Leader, Cllr Chris Boden, said: "We are absolutely delighted to go through to the next round of the Future High Streets Fund.

"We know that the high street is no longer a place people need to go to, so we must focus on making it one that they want to go to. By developing mixed use space to support a cultural, retail and leisure offer, bringing greater population density into the town centre, and improving the public realm, we will ensure March is a resilient market town, which can adapt to irreversible global trends, such as online shopping.

"This opportunity has come at a perfect time for March, as work is already ongoing through the Growing Fenland Masterplans project. The fact that we have been shortlisted for the high street funding is further recognition from Government and an endorsement of our plans as credible and deliverable."

The first stage of the FHSF application process involved the Council setting out its vision for March town centre, the regeneration work that is ongoing to overcome the challenges facing the high street and an initial overview of the extra investment needed.

The bid focused on developing the cultural, retail and leisure offer in March, to make the town an even more engaging and attractive place to meet. Plans include transforming vacant buildings on Acre Road into mixed use buildings; improving access on to the river bank with new platform seating to open up a new appreciation of the town's iconic river view; reducing traffic flow through Broad Street; as well as investing in existing buildings and digital infrastructure to support a sustainable town centre.

The bid was supported by a number of local stakeholders including the Combined Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council, the Business Board of the Combined Authority, local businesses and Arts Council England.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP hopes the fund will help local leaders to reinvent their town centres by allowing them to take positive action such as improving transport and access or converting retail units into new homes.

He said: "High Streets are a crucial part of our local economies and people care about them because they are also the centres of their community. But we recognise that changing consumer behaviour and the rise of online shopping presents a significant challenge and that's why we are taking action to help them evolve.

"Many of our high streets are successfully re-inventing themselves and with these new plans now in development, local leaders, who know their areas best, will be driving forward the transformation of their town centres into further great success stories."#

Article date: July 2019

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