Newton Abbot Future High Streets Fund
By Jackie Hook
I wanted to describe in more detail some of the exciting improvements that will be coming to our town centre as a result of the Council's successful application to the government Future High Street Fund. It is not often as a Council that we get the chance to approve the spending of £9.2 million government funding to invest in the future prosperity of our town.
The proposals came out of Newton's Abbot's Community Plan of 2008 and later Neighbourhood Plan of 2016, both subject to extensive consultation. These documents and the Town Centre Masterplan that followed, laid out a vision based on residents' priorities, to restore the market, encourage a new cinema and improve the shopping environment in Queen St.
The final scheme is composed therefore of 3 elements.
The Queen Street element involves significant widening of the pavements in the street, its "greening" through planting trees and shrubs, the provision of seating, the reduction of car parking along the street but the provision of more disabled parking. This presents a fantastic opportunity to finally set Queen St shops, traders, restaurants and cafes on a path to increased financial sustainability. By improving the environment of the street and lessening the impact of the motor vehicle we will create a street where people want to linger, browse, and spend money. We won't have to continually step into the road to avoid others, and breathe in the fumes of queuing cars on a Saturday morning. Evidence from across the country shows that people spend when they are out of their cars in a pleasant environment that they want to spend time in. This is what the Future High Street funding enables us to do.
The second element is the Market Quarter proposal. A new multi-screen cinema will be built on the site of the existing New Look building. The current Alexandra Cinema building will be opened up inside and returned to a combined space with the Market Hall. It has been a long term demand voiced in several public consultations that the town restore its standing as a premier market town. This new linked space will allow for the market to return to its roots as a social, retail, community and cultural hub, a place where people can eat, drink, socialise, relax, shop and be entertained. It will increase the art, cultural and live performance opportunities in our town. An element of the space will be flexible and able to be adapted to make an event space. A flexible space future proofs the building, providing a community meeting space with multiple uses possible. It is proposed that temporary staging could be installed and the space be separately closed off and therefore have different opening hours as desired. This could create far more opportunities than are currently available, for performances of all kinds.
Contrary to some views being expressed locally the Market/Alexandra Hall proposals will restore many of the original listed and historic features of the building restoring much of its original feel and purpose, allowing it to become a retail, cultural and social hub. Fewer people have been visiting this part of town over the last few years, even before covid, and these proposals represent a chance to restore the premier market prestige of the town, which has been a long term aim.
The third element involves improving pedestrian, wheelchair and cycle access to and around the town centre. The route through Sherborne Rd, Cricketfield Rd and Marsh Road and links into the town centre will be improved, being made more visible and safer for all users, with improved road crossings.
The proposals received wide coverage in the Mid Devon Advertiser and across social media last Spring and Summer, when the public consultation took place. Based on a good public response Teignbridge District Council Executive approved the draft proposals in June last year. TDC Full Council approved acceptance of the government funds this Spring. Further work will be taking place on the final details of the schemes with all relevant groups and the public. All works will need to conform to current Council carbon reduction policies. The money needs to be spent by March 2024.
The Future High Street Fund proposals are exciting and aimed at enhancing what the town has to offer, encouraging footfall and helping all traders, making the town a safer more relaxed and pleasant place, where we will want to stay a bit longer and be able to shop, eat, and be entertained if we wish.