Market towns focused on Covid recovery win millions in Combined Authority grants and partner funding

Board members of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority have unanimously voted to approve 22 new project proposals, totalling £4.1 million in grant funding, under the Market Towns Programme for Fenland, Huntingdonshire and East Cambridgeshire.

Ranging from smart technology to improve digital connectivity, electric-car charging, places-to-dwell with space for social distancing, town walks, enhanced river frontages, to ‘Love Huntingdonshire’ pop-up stalls, a bike kitchen, and new loos, these imaginative projects have active travel, greenspace, people and business centred ideas at their very heart – ensuring a new way of safely welcoming people to town centres, supporting communities and their local economy.

Of these 22 proposals, fourteen projects have come forward from Huntingdonshire, six from Fenland, and two from East Cambridgeshire, focusing investment on the towns of Wisbech, Whittlesey, Ely, Soham, St Ives, Huntingdon, March and Ramsey.

These newly-approved proposals join the fifteen projects previously approved by the Combined Authority Board, which has resulted in just over £8.9 million in grant funding and attracting an additional £11 million of match investment.

Board members heard how these project proposals would help the town centres and high streets bounce back strongly from the effects of Covid-19, but also support the wider regeneration and sustained growth of key market towns.

Councillor Jon Neish, deputy leader, Huntingdonshire District Council said: “Speaking for Huntingdonshire District Council, we really welcome this capital money from the Combined Authority. It’s really exciting, the number of programmes we’ve put forward, and the council is really pleased that all the plans we submitted have passed the independent assessors’ threshold. This investment will obviously further support our town centres in this particularly difficult time.”

Councillor Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council said: “I want to reflect on the success of this programme. It’s been a long while since those people who live in the towns can remember any sort of attention paid to them, they lose to the cities who always seem to attract government funding, always at the front of the queue. This original programme is saying ‘Look, these towns cannot be ignored in this way, there’s economic growth there, they just need to be supported. And you put out the call to ask for the best ideas and they did come forward in their droves.”

Board members used the market town item on the agenda to discuss investment across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough generally, in cities and villages, not just towns, especially in the light of the effects of the Covid virus within the community.

Following a call from Councillor Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, for more joint working on rejuvenating the county’s towns and cities, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough James Palmer said: “I totally agree, and we have been working with not just Cambridge City Council and Peterborough City Council but the district councils as well to make sure that part of this response is Covid-related because there’s clearly a need for people to congregate, people will still want to visit cities and towns and they want to be entertained there. It’s just that entertainment may not be in shopping nowadays, it may be in other areas.  This is our market town strategy – and I thank Cllr Bailey (East Cambridgeshire District Council), Cllr Neish and Cllr Boden (Fenland District Council) for the work they have done in their councils to support this scheme. This is very much about what we can do in the short and the long term to transform our market towns.

“But we have also invested over £700k into the city centre of Cambridge which will see pedestrianisation and café culture brought into the Piece area, which I think is very exciting, and similarly, we’ve invested about £800k into the Peterborough city centre for the Cathedral Square area to allow people to have that different kind of experience from visiting our cities. That will stand in great stead over the summer as, we hope, the vaccine kicks in and people are able to get out and visit and spend their money in our economy again.

“I think the challenge is there and it’s right that we don’t drop the ball on this and we continue to put investment into our towns and our cities and into the centres of them and we will continue to lobby government where we can to get the funding in as we have done with March and the £25 million that came into Peterborough earlier on.”

Cambridgeshire has eleven designated ‘market towns’ in the scheme, Mayor Palmer addressed how the Combined Authority had invested widely in other areas of the county through other routes.

“This item is, of course, about market towns, and South Cambridgeshire doesn’t have market towns – the market town is effectively the city of Cambridge itself. However, through the Business Board, we have invested £55 million into the economy of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough over the course of the last year, £17 million of which was into the economy and businesses of South Cambridgeshire – and I visited some of those businesses myself. We will continue to work to do whatever we can to support and grow our economy. We’ll be looking forward to getting back out doing that over the summer I look to the to the government, at the success of last August’s Eat Out To Help Out and I’d hope very much that there are similar schemes from central government this summer because, the likelihood of going abroad is limited, so supporting our local economies is absolutely something we should be doing.”

The next tranche of market town proposals will come before the Combined Authority Board for consideration in March.

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