Initially launched in December 2018 and increased in July 2019, the Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) is a £1b Government fund to help regenerate 150 town centres across the country as attractive places to live and work and respond to the shrinking demand for retail space. The fund should be used to deliver “transformational and structural changes… and diversify town centre uses away from retail”.
Initial small grants were given to local councils to work with partners to develop a business case for one town in their area which had a retail vacancy rate higher than the English average. Over 300 submissions were received and, from these, ~50 were selected (view full list here) and awarded funding to develop full applications to the fund for up to a maximum of £25m capital investment (although £5-10m per town centre was expected).
Application for Buxton
Spring Gardens, Buxton was chosen for the High Peak borough, due New Mills, the only other town centre eligible, had already been awarded a regeneration grant and no further large-scale town centre initiative was identified. At the time of application, Spring Gardens, Buxton (along with The Springs Shopping Centre) had a vacancy rate of 14% which placed the area second-worst in the East Midlands (even prior to recent vacations such as M&S, Santander, H Samuel and Dorothy Perkins/Evans). Furthermore, due to little food or leisure use after 5pm, it becomes an evening ‘dead zone’. Along with high numbers of charity and discount stores, it therefore appears as a low quality offer.
In July 2019, Buxton was chosen as one of first 50 towns and received £134,500 to develop detailed proposals and a business case for funding.
Proposals were developed by High Peak Borough Council (HPBC) and a team of consultants including planning and property consultants Lambert Smith Hampton, masterplanners e*SCAPE Urbanists, and transport consultants Pell Frischmann, along with input from key town stakeholders and community partners who make up the Buxton Visitor Economy Strategy (VES) & Town Centre Board (including Vision Buxton), property owners and other interested parties. A public consultation into their ~£10m proposals was launched in February 2020 with revised proposals reviewed and approved prior to submission in June 2020 (delayed from April due to the Covid-19 pandemic).
On Boxing Day 2020, it was announced that 15 towns had received their full request and a further 57, including Buxton, had received a partial “in-principle” offer, representing 69% of their application. 29 applications were rejected.
HPBC then had to revise their proposals to fit the reduced amount (£6,608,223) and resubmit in February 2021. Fundamental changes to the objectives of the approved proposals could not be changed, nor could they change where the money was spent. Community groups, residents, businesses, stakeholders and elected representatives were asked to confirm their priorities.
In May 2021, it was announced that the ~£6.6m application for Buxton had been successful.