To counter online shopping, revitalization of historic British high streets gets £62 million

On May 18, 2019, a new £62 million fund will breathe new life into historic high streets (referred to as “Main Streets” here in the U.S.) across the country was announced.

High streets lie at the economic and cultural heart of communities, but are under increasing pressure as more people choose to shop online.

Derby’s Cathedral Quarter. Photo: Visit Derby.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mel Stride, added, “High streets are the lifeblood ‎of towns and cities across the country. By reviving older, disused buildings, we’re ensuring ‎high streets can not only adapt and change to suit our modern lives – but remain at the heart of our communities for years to come.‎”

Building on previously successful programs, this new funding will be used to regenerate places by turning disused or underused buildings into creative spaces, offices, retail outlets and housing.

It’s part of the UK Government’s ongoing work to help high streets adapt to changing consumer habits.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said, “Our heritage makes communities more attractive places to live, work and visit. This £62 million investment will breathe new life into high streets right across the country, benefiting local people and businesses, as well as providing assistance to much-loved historic buildings. It is right that we do all we can to not only protect our heritage, but make it work for modern life so it can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

The funding builds on the success of projects in Margate, Grantham and Derby, where the redevelopment of Derby Cathedral Quarter brought nearly 100 properties and more than 2,700 m2 of commercial floor space back into use through Historic England’s Partnership Scheme in Conservation Areas.

Derby’s Cathedral Quarter. Photo: Visit Derby.

Liz Peace CBE, Chairman, Architectural Heritage Fund, “With the right funding and expertise, thriving social enterprises can inject life into our high streets and the heritage assets around them. The Transforming Places through Heritage programme will help accelerate investment into many other places like Coventry and begin to reimagine our high streets as once more places of both social and commercial prosperity.

This initiative is part of the government’s comprehensive plan for high streets announced at last year’s Budget, including a £675 million Future High Streets Fund and a £1 billion business rates discount for small high street retailers.

Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire, MP said, “We’re absolutely committed to seeing our high streets thrive now and in the future. That’s why we put a plan to secure the future of the high street, and are taking action to ensure they can adapt to changing consumer demand and the rise of online shopping. This welcome announcement will help the high street to capitalise on local heritage by restoring treasured historic buildings for economic use. This is a proven way to drive footfall, increase further investment and generate even greater civic pride in our high streets.”

Research has shown that for every £1 invested in heritage in England, £1.60 is brought into the wider area.

The funding includes:

  • £44 million of government and Historic England funding to create dozens of High Streets Heritage Action Zones overseen by Historic England.  Local authorities can apply to the scheme, which will give councils, businesses and community groups access to expert advice and investment to bring historic buildings back into use and support historic high streets to adapt to the challenges they face.
  • £3 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to support a cultural programme to engage people in the life and history of their high streets.
  • £15 million for the Architectural Heritage Fund to support social enterprise organisations like Historic Coventry Trust to take ownership of and bring buildings of local importance – such as pubs, libraries or theatres, as well as shops – back into use. The Transforming Places Through Heritage Programme will open for applications in June of 2019.

Also in the run up to UK City of Culture 2021, Coventry will receive £2 million for a new project in shopping street The Burges. It is one of the few remaining parts of Coventry to survive World War II and post-war redevelopments of the city, which saw large numbers of ancient buildings destroyed. The money will be used to acquire, restore and regenerate Coventry’s historic buildings to help create a sustainable future for each building.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England concluded, “We know that people value their high streets and town centres as spaces where they can meet and feel a sense of communal ownership and belonging. We are therefore delighted to be opening up for applications grants for High Street Heritage Action Zones. Through physical improvements and cultural and community activities, we will work with partners to find new ways to regenerate our historic high streets. We recognise the scale of the challenge with empty shops and the significant shift in retail trends and we will combine our experience with the knowledge and passion of local councils, businesses and community groups, to help revive the streets which form the hearts of our historic towns.

Featured photo of Derby Cathedral Quarter courtesy of Visit Peak District.

Learn more about the Heritage Actions Zones program.

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