We are pleased to share the results of the recent public engagement exercise to develop a ‘Future High Streets Fund’ business case for Kingswood town centre.
We were delighted to receive more than 600 responses to the public engagement which ran for 7 May to 7 June with 67% of respondents supporting the principle of pedestrianisation in the area.
This is an early stage in that journey as we seek to secure funding from the Government, but this support has been welcomed at a time where residents have been dependent on safe access to their local community for their day-to-day needs following the easing of lockdown restrictions.
At the heart of the proposed business case for the wider project is a request for funding to fully restore Whitfield Tabernacle, acquire property in the town centre and pedestrianise Regent Street.
Together with the Whitfield Tabernacle Trust, we have carried-out urgent work to protect the Grade-I listed building against collapse. This was the first of what it is hoped will become three phases of work towards achieving full restoration of the Tabernacle as a complementary community space with a variety of possible uses including a space for performances and a cultural cinema.
The initial phase of work to stabilise the most vulnerable parts of the building has now been completed and will enable safe access so the second phase can begin.
Listed Building Consent has been granted for the second phase of ‘stabilisation’ work and we have appointed an architect on behalf of the Whitfield Tabernacle Trust, which has been funded by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) through its ‘Love our High Streets’ project. The Future High Streets Fund business case seeks to complete the funding required to achieve full restoration and bring an exciting new cultural experience to the high street.
Council Leader, Cllr Toby Savage, said: “It is great to see all the activity on the Whitfield Tabernacle Conservation Area. Crossman Homes are well underway with the conversion of the Grade-II listed Masters Church to create 19 apartments and three new dwellings. We have been thoroughly committed to securing the investment to finally restore the Tabernacle alongside this private sector investment and hope that the Government will back us to go beyond stabilisation and complete full restoration.”
Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, said: “Supporting key areas such as Kingswood, to improve and thrive in what has been challenging times, is central to our role in the West of England Combined Authority. I am pleased to see how work is progressing here and hope that the bid for the next stage of work is successful.”
Reverend Anthony Hick, Chairman of the Whitfield Tabernacle Trust said: “This represents an exciting first next step for the Trust in the restoration of this historic building which is valued and remembered fondly by many Kingswood residents. Kingswood played an extraordinary role in the birth of non-conformist religion the evangelical revival and I am pleased that the wider regeneration plans for Kingswood are presenting history and culture at the heart of the offer. Stabilisation will enable us to open the building to the public for the first time for nearly 30 years. We intend to have display boards inside to tell the history and significance of the building and enable visitors to grasp the vision and potential for its future.”
The council’s Future High Streets Fund submission would also unlock opportunities for significant investment in the public realm, providing a clean, attractive and vibrant public space that can support markets, cultural activity and on street trading opportunities for existing businesses. Collectively the council is seeking to develop a family-friendly economy that will increase footfall and challenge the issues of congestion and poor air quality in areas most densely used by shoppers and visitors.
There are a number of challenges that need to be resolved in developing the design, if the funding bid is successful, and the we are committed to working through the comments of individual businesses and residents to address some of the specific issues raised such as access for loading and deliveries, and the junction improvements that would be required to mitigate for the diversion of eastbound traffic. There will be further public consultation alongside the development of a comprehensive Masterplan for the town centre.
Council Leader, Cllr Toby Savage, added: “The Government was very clear that the Future High Streets Fund was in place to support ambitious transformation in physical infrastructure. We have been bold in our vision for Regent Street and the Conservation Area and are exploring options to back this with commercial investment in key sites. We believe that a high-quality public realm investment can reinvigorate the private sector at a time when it is adapting to a growing internet shopping challenge and an increasing reliance on the public sector to lead regeneration.”
Survey responses demonstrated the lack of diversity in the Kingswood high street offer, but also a demand for new uses and interest in more opportunities to eat out, markets and support for increased green infrastructure. The council will provide this engagement report as part of the feedback to Government and as part of the business case and has been delighted to see the key proposals backed by residents, which will help to strengthen the case for additional funding.
MP Chris Skidmore said: “Having long campaigned both locally and in Parliament for improvements and investment into our Kingswood high street and shopping centre, along with pushing for the full restoration of our cherished Whitfield Tabernacle, I am delighted to see there is continuing momentum to regenerate our local area. The high level of engagement, interest and support shown by local residents for these ambitious plans will help make the case for further funding to unlock Kingswood’s potential and bring even more opportunities for local residents and businesses.”
Information on the project and the full results of the engagement survey can be found here https://www.southglos.gov.uk/business/regeneration/love-high-streets-kingswood/