Hucknall misses out on town-centre cash boost

HUCKNALL has missed out on a golden chance to benefit from a £100,000 regeneration fund — because it could not get a bid in on time.

The ‘Portas Plus’ initiative, administered by the Department Of Communities And Local Government (DCLG), is partly aimed at reviving areas affected by last year’s summer riots.

But Hucknall would have been eligible for a grant because of the high number of its empty shops.

And the money could have been used to give the town centre a much-needed shot in the arm.

However, the town did not even get so far as submitting an application. At a meeting of Hucknall Partnership Group (HPG), chairman Brenda Shelbourne hit out at the short notice it received about the fund.

She added that by the time the group became aware of the scheme, the deadline meant that were only two weeks to set up a committee and decide on a suitable plan for Hucknall.

“It gave us a totally impossible task,” said Brenda. “This is now water under the bridge but every effort should be made to ensure that an opportunity like this is never missed again.”

Hucknall’s town-centre manager Mark Armstrong said 400 applications were made across the UK for grants from the scheme.

“But the time-line given by the DCLG for applications was incredibly tight,” he added.

The regeneration idea stemmed from an initiative launched last May when businesswoman, retail expert and broadcaster Mary Portas, known as ‘Mary Queen Of Shops’, was asked by Prime Minister David Cameron to lead an independent review into the future of high-street shops.

Her recommendations included forming ‘town teams’ to put the heart back into the high streets and make them accessible, attractive and safe.

Ashfield District Council’s deputy leader, Coun John Wilmott (Lab), of Hucknall, said the district’s two other towns, Kirkby and Sutton, were able to make applications to ‘Portas Plus’ because they already had ‘town teams’ able to do the required work straight away. But Hucknall did not.

The Rev Stephen Ibbotson, the new minister of Hucknall’s Watnall Road Baptist Church, said a proposed ‘town team’ for Hucknall should engage much more widely with the local community than just focusing on businesses.

He added: “This town has so much potential, so the whole of the community needs to be involved.”

Also at the HPG meting, Mr Armstrong reported that work on the new Hucknall Byron Business Centre, between Beardall Street and Vine Terrace, was “only weeks away” from being completed.

He pointed out that a delay had arisen because extensive improvements were needed to the site’s drainage system, and a small amount of asbestos needed to be removed.

“When the centre is open, it will provide a very high quality of office accommodation,” said Mr Armstrong.

He went on to tell the meeting that a bid was now being made to “re-launch” Hucknall’s Friday market. One idea is to reduce the number of stalls on the Thursday night bargain market. This would mean fewer empty stalls for the Friday market, making it look fully occupied.

An attempt is also being made to avoid clashes with car-boot sales.

Mr Armstrong told the meeting that banks were reluctant to provide loans to new businesses, regarding them as an incredibly high risk.

As far as Hucknall was concerned, empty shops in the town centre, such as the former Bon Marche and YMCA premises, were too large for start-up businesses.

He added that uncertainty about the inner bypass and part-pedestrianisation of High Street was not helping with moves for regeneration. “Some businesses are waiting to see what happens,” said Mr Armstrong.

Suggestions were made for new businesses wanting to set up in Hucknall to ‘start small’, perhaps by occupying a market stall as a first step.