A wide range of projects are underway in Wales with the aim of regenerating business districts, improving infrastructure and enhancing local communities. There’s a strong focus on improving town centres and surrounding areas, with government support coming from sources including the Targeted Regeneration Investment Programme, the Building for the Future Programme, and the Town Centre Loan Fund.
Qualifying projects may enhance existing properties or involve more extensive redevelopments such as transforming empty properties into housing, community facilities or viable businesses.
The Targeted Regeneration In Wales Investment Programme and the Building for the Future Programme are available to local authorities working with partner organisations, while the Town Centre Loan Fund is available to social housing associations, property developers, private landlords and businesses.
Another important drive to improve Wales’ town centres is the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) programme, through which local businesses work with partners to improve the area in which they operate, providing additional services beyond what is already available. There are 15 BIDs in Wales, and two more in development. The aim of the BIDs is to unite businesses, giving them a voice, supporting economic growth and strengthening communities.
The Town Centre Loan Fund was bolstered earlier this year with the announcement of £24m in funding: £18.4m to breathe life into old and empty properties and £3.34m to help high street businesses to grow and embrace new technology. The new round of funding enables local authorities to step in to buy and redevelop empty and underused properties, converting them into housing, leisure facilities or bases for key services.
£2.57m has been awarded to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to redevelop sites in Ebbw Vale and Brynmawr, and £750,000 has been awarded to Flintshire County Council to redevelop premises. Swansea City and County Council has been awarded £6 million to repurpose empty buildings in the city, and Powys County Council has been given £2m to redevelop the Llanidloes livestock market site.
In addition, £3.34 million has been allocated to help town centre businesses plan projects to support economic growth, make better use of digital technology, and use data to improve understanding of their customer base and boost their marketing efforts. The funding will also help establish pop up shops and creative hubs to drive increased footfall in town centres.
A separate £3 million North Wales Town Centres Entrepreneurial fund aims to incentivise new entrepreneurs to locate their businesses within the town centres of Wrexham, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Bangor.
Meanwhile, the Community Facilities Programme is issuing grants to community and voluntary sector organisations, including social enterprises, with the aim of increasing community opportunities, prosperity, and resilience. The fund covers small grants of up to £25,000 and larger grants of up to £250,000. All applicants are expected to work with partners from the public, private or third sector.
Also with a community focus, the Rhyl Flats Community Fund is funding community projects across parts of the North Wales coastline, awarding grants of up to £10,000 to help strengthen communities, build community spirit, improve the lives of local people and create more viable local facilities.
Along Wales’ coast, £6m has been allocated via the Coastal Communities Fund. This is the sixth round of the £17m Transforming Towns Coastal Communities Fund, which aims to support economic development, promote sustainable jobs and bring regeneration to coastal town centres and high streets. A total 27 projects received funding in the now-closed funding round, including £223,300 for Viva Port Talbot, the Port Talbot BID; £300,000 for Cwmni’r Frân Wen Cyf, an arts and community hub in Bangor, and £200,000 towards the restoration of Cardigan Market Hall.
In addition to these funds and opportunities, the UK Government is gearing up to launch the UK Shared Prosperity Fund in 2022. This will take the place of funding from the EU; investment from EU Structural Funds will continue to be spent by local areas until 2023 and the government says the new fund will at least match EU receipts, “on average reaching around £1.5bn a year”.
It says the new fund will “operate throughout the UK and play a part in uniting and levelling up the whole country”. The government has promised to increase funding for “projects that are supporting people and places across the UK, focused on our domestic priorities, growing local economies, and breathing new life into our communities”.
In preparation for its launch, the government has provided an additional £220m of investment for 2021-2022 via the UK Community Renewal Fund, which aims to “support people and communities most in need across the UK to pilot programmes and new approaches and will invest in skills, community and place, local business, and supporting people into employment”. Successful bids announced on November 3 include 164 in Wales.
A second investment programme, the Levelling Up Fund, pledges up to £4.8bn between now and 2024-2025 to “invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, including regenerating town centres and high streets, upgrading local transport, and investing in cultural and heritage assets”.
The first round successful bidders, announced on October 27, include the Tywi Valley Path walking and cycling route project in Carmarthenshire, Carmarthen and Pembroke HWB (a public health and wellbeing facilities development), Aberystwyth town regeneration, Heart of Pembrokeshire Rediscovering Haverfordwest cultural regeneration in Wales programme, Montgomery Canal restoration in Powys, Brecon and Radnorshire strategic town centre investment, the Muni Arts Centre in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Porth Transport Hub in Rhondda Cynon Taf, the A4119 Coed-ely dualling scheme in Rhondda Cynon Taf, and a connectivity improvement project to maximise the potential of the post-COVID-19 visitor economy in Wrexham.
A third strand, the £150 million Community Ownership Fund, will “help ensure that communities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can support and continue benefiting from the local facilities, community assets and amenities most important to them”. The fund will run until 2024/25 and there will be at least eight bidding rounds in total. The first-round successful bidders, announced on November 4, include three in Wales: Achub Tyn Llan/Save Tyn Llan in Gwynedd, refurbishment and redevelopment of the Queens Ballroom in Blaenau Gwent, and The CANA Resource and Training Centre in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
These funds sit alongside a broader package of UK-wide interventions including the Plan for Jobs, which aims to help unemployed people find work; the establishment of Freeports as national hubs for global trade and investment; the UK Infrastructure Bank, which provides finance to support local authority and private sector infrastructure projects; and the locally-led City and Growth Deals, which aim to deliver interventions and attract further investment to our cities.
In England, the initiatives also sit alongside The Towns Fund, the Future High Streets Fund, the Getting Building Fund, Skills Bootcamps, and Further Education Reform. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have received investment via the Barnett Formula.
The three new funds – the UK Community Renewal Fund, the Levelling Up Fund and the Community Ownership Fund, mark a departure from the way regeneration funding is normally managed: it’s the first time that local authorities have applied directly to the UK Government, bypassing involvement from Welsh Government.
The Government’s spin on this is that it is “decentralising power and working more directly with local partners and communities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are best placed to understand the needs of their local areas and more closely aligned to the local economic geographies to deliver quickly on the ground.”
It will be interesting to watch how future funding rounds develop; we hope there will be a sustained balance of distribution across the whole of the UK.
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At iCreate we work with council leaders and heads of regeneration in Wales, creating 3D visual representations of regeneration schemes to help them attract investors and keep local people engaged and informed. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you, please call Dawn, Kyle or Sophie or drop us a message!