Councillors and business leaders have welcomed news that Oswestry is set to receive £700,000 of government funding to help tackle empty properties and enhance the heritage of the town, to boost its economic recovery in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis.
It follows Oswestry’s successful bid to Historic England last year to become a High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ).
The successful bid was made by Shropshire Council, in partnership with the Future Oswestry Group, which also comprises Oswestry Town Council and Oswestry Business Improvement District (BID).
Overall the scheme will have a total budget of £1.25 million, including a contribution of £500,000 from Oswestry Town Council and anticipated private investment. Becoming a High Streets Heritage Action Zone will help to support the aims of the Future Oswestry Group to develop the long-term vision for Oswestry town centre.
The Future Oswestry Group partners are currently working with Historic England to finalise the HSHAZ programme so that it supports the town’s economic recovery following the easing of lockdown measures.
The funding will be used to deliver a repair scheme for key strategic buildings, look at converting empty buildings with mixture of uses including workspace, retail and restaurants on the ground floor, with residential units above.
There will be permanent enhancements to the historic environment including key shop fronts and a residential conversions programme for the upper floors of shop units to provide a number of new homes within the town, plus increased spend and an enhanced town centre experience. Together with the other measures the Future Oswestry Group partners are putting in place, such as temporary traffic orders to assist social distancing, this will aid the town’s economic recovery as the lockdown is eased.
There will also be a separate £50,000 that the town’s vibrant community-based heritage and arts groups can use to develop projects to further support the overall aims of the scheme.
As part of the HSHAZ scheme the Future Oswestry Group will engage with the Civic Society, community and education groups to provide an inclusive project, creating opportunities for residents and young people to become fully involved.
The HSHAZ programme is rooted in community-based participation, and now that the funding has been announced the Future Oswestry Group can collaborate with groups to ensure community engagement is embedded in the delivery of the HSHAZ programme.
This is a great opportunity to steer investment to improve the prosperity of the town and adapt to the challenges the high street was experiencing, even before Covid-19.
The HSHAZ programme and community engagement will be supported by the planned place-making work, which intends to build on the body of work undertaken to date such as the Oswestry 2020 Town Plan, and the work of partners and key stakeholders.
Work will begin on the master plan and movement strategy including consultation activities – subject to COVID-19 restrictions – over the coming weeks.
Steve Charmley, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for assets, economic growth and regeneration, said:
“Building on the work of the Future Oswestry Group, the HSHAZ funding provides an exciting opportunity to tackle and address some of the heritage issues and empty properties within the conservation area of the town. Through a strong place-based approach to management of the high street, we will be working with key partners to deliver this vision and to bring the town’s high street to life.
“This is an exciting time for Oswestry, and the HSHAZ funding will give us the ability to push on with some of the projects that had already been started through the Future Oswestry Group. This collaboration between Shropshire Council, Oswestry Town Council and the BID is key to the success of ensuring that we maximise on the impact of the funding.”
The Mayor of Oswestry, Councillor Duncan Kerr, said:
“This announcement is excellent news. Tackling empty properties has been a priority for local people and this investment will help to rejuvenate the town centre, protect the town’s heritage characteristics and make it a place where people want to spend time.
This investment from Historic England together with the town councils contribution will make a difference.
We are very much looking forward to working with Shropshire Council and partners to deliver.”
Adele Nightingale, Oswestry BID manager, said:
“Oswestry is town with a proud history and a bright future. This funding will allow us to make the best of our heritage whilst improving the look and feel of the town for workers, residents and visitors. It will also encourage continued development and business investment in the town.”