The Scrutiny & Elections Officer explained the various documents that had been presented to Members as part of the review and the approach taken so far.
The Director of Economic Development, Dragonfly Development Limited (DDL), presented a review of the South Normanton Town Centre Regeneration Framework, acknowledging the Committee’s original review plan to take each town area in turn. They noted that the Framework had originally been commissioned in autumn 2015 and had highlighted a range of public and private interventions that could be made to improve the town centre and surrounding areas.
As agreed with Committee, officers had produced a scorecard analysing progress against the various elements of the Framework including in surrounding villages and hamlets. On reflection, the Framework document hadn’t guided development to a great extent within the area. Many elements remained undelivered as the document had been aspirational in nature requiring additional buy-in from Town and Parish Councils to engage in the development plans themselves. Where funding had not been in place, many ideas had been difficult to deliver.
It was noted that the previous Regeneration Frameworks, to some extent, also sat outside a wider strategy for development and there was not a bank of costed projects ready to put forward to support the area. While the intention of the Frameworks had been to lever investment, the lack of costed projects had made them almost impossible to deliver. As there was an insufficient evidence base within the document, additional research would now be required in order to evidence and cost the projects that could regenerate the town centres. Furthermore, due to the age of the documents, there was no reference to current issues such as carbon reduction, digital connectivity and nature recovery.
The original document was completed back in 2015-17 and did not fit with current community aspirations. The aim of completing the community consultation at the time was to ensure partners were on board with regeneration. The suite of documents overall was potentially too ambitious and very resource intensive to produce. It was highlighted that going forward any new approach to regeneration planning must provide value for money.
The officer acknowledged that the Frameworks hadn’t had the expected impact and it was clear that officers welcomed recommendations from Committee on potential future activity. They noted that it was important that the Council was clear how it could support parishes and that there were clear mechanisms to signpost elsewhere when the Council could not assist. This would also enable the Council to prioritise future action more effectively.
The Director noted that at a previous meeting there had been appetite from the Committee to work closer with parishes particularly for the Clowne framework area and that this would also be a good approach for South Normanton. Of the three core delivery objectives, none had progressed. Of the five Stepping Stone projects, none had progressed. It was noted, however, that South Normanton and all the core villages in the surrounding area had been assessed through the Town Centre Health Check process and all remained stable in terms of their viability as local centres.
A Committee Member noted that there were several good ideas for projects within the Framework but that a number were heavily dependent on securing funding and queried if this was the reason for lack of progression.
The Director confirmed that a significant amount of extra investment was required for delivery, likely a mix of public/private sector investment. The pandemic had impacted reserves for many local businesses which was affecting their day-to-day stability and opportunity to expand. Ideally the area would benefit from government funding aimed at public realm improvements as there were several small schemes identified which would support local businesses, particularly those with premises requiring renovation.
A Ward Member noted that South Normanton in particular did not have any vacant premises. They highlighted that the marketplace area was in need of regeneration but that this always seemed to be low priority, with limited emphasis on how that part of the town could be improved over other priorities. They noted that the town was a key gateway to the District and also one of the biggest employers in the District through the McArthur Glen outlet. This alone should generate the need to ensure the town remained attractive. Furthermore, the Post Mill Centre was an excellent venue for the community and local services. In light of the environmental improvements taking place elsewhere in the District, the creation of a community orchard area and/or land to support the delivery of Forest School activities would be a welcome addition. The Member queried why this area of the District had not been prioritised for improvement sooner.
The Director confirmed that the Growth Plans in Creswell and Shirebrook areas were as a result of submissions to the Local Plan Implementation Group and that Members had prioritised those communities for additional development as a result. Both Members and officers were aware of local concerns where additional development was being proposed in smaller communities. The Director clarified that those supporting the development of plans are sensitive to this. The Council was currently approaching Derbyshire County Council for investment support for shop front improvement schemes. South Normanton had been identified as an area where public realm works were required and recent work in Pinxton had led to proposals for the creation of a wellness hub for the community. It was hoped that monies previously earmarked to support work at Oxcroft House in Bolsover could be redirected for use in South Normanton if a private sector tenant could be secured for Oxcroft House. The Development Team were constantly assessing external funding streams available to support development. It was acknowledged that there was also a need to create closer working relationships to the different communities within the south of the District. It was hoped to work with the Leader’s Executive and Partnerships team to enable this. The South Normanton area was the most economically productive in the District due to the businesses located there.
A Committee Member noted that they were aware projects had not progressed as planned and agreed with the concerns raised by the Ward Member. They felt new recommendations for action were now required to move forward.
The Director noted that following the upcoming election there would be a renewed emphasis on working with the parishes and building relationships with the new councils. The importance of a medium-term plan was emphasised with clear deadlines for delivery. It was also important to consider alternative uses for vacant premises such as pop-up shops for local start-up business to function as a kick-start.
A Committee Member commented that they felt the issues affecting this Framework area were universal across the District. They welcomed the investment in the Shirebrook area and felt this was well overdue. They also highlighted the issue of connectivity as a big problem in most areas and welcomed the idea of closer parish links.
The Director noted that improving the links to parishes would also help to bring other strands of work together such as s.106 payments.
A Ward Member suggested that each locality within the Framework area would benefit from a small amount of funding to support the initial setup of regeneration schemes and/or feasibility studies. They highlighted work they were aware of in the Erewash area on business improvement and noted the current funding streams being promoted on the local radio.
A Ward Member reiterated that following the election in May it was vital to work with the Partnerships Policy Officers for each area to help facilitate improved local connections and working relationships. They also noted further complications in relation to the completion of highways repairs by Derbyshire County Council (DCC), and delays to the planned extension of the McArthur Glen site. They noted that the Framework area was not a natural area to travel to via bus from other parts of the District, even within the immediate area transport links were very limited. They questioned why other neighbouring areas appeared to have been more successful in securing Town Deals and other external funding and was frustrated by the lack of success in attracting funding resources. It also noted that food bank access was poor within the area with the services only located in South Normanton not the wider communities.
The Director noted that the success of bids by surrounding areas was largely due to them being classed as a priority 1 area, as such they had already been eligible for additional allocations. The District was classified as a priority 2 area and consequently the Council had to work significantly harder to achieve funding bid successes.
The Scrutiny & Elections Officer reminded Members of the Town Centre Health Checks that had been completed and their recommendations for the development and adoption of local management strategies.
The Director acknowledged that the Health Checks had proved very beneficial and enabled work to progress such as that in Shirebrook at the marketplace. They noted that the Planning Service had a specific workstream looking at vacant premises, with the aim of identifying the owner to ensure the premise was moved on to new uses.
A Ward Member agreed that refreshed communications with parish councils was crucial and that this should involve the Leader’s Executive and Partnerships team. They felt that some external partners were more engaged than others when it came to regenerating the area in partnership. They queried the need for a dedicated Funding Officer and whether this would enable a more effective approach. They also believed it was imperative that the Council have more ‘shovel-ready’ projects developed to enable a quicker application process and reduced missed opportunities. The three areas they felt required most attention was the development of a cycle route within the main town centre within South Normanton, review and redevelopment of the marketplace area, and development of the war memorial.
The Director noted that the service was now in a position to redirect funding previously earmarked for other projects towards improvements and/or feasibility studies in relation to the South Normanton Framework area. Most initial plans or studies would likely need between £10-£20,000 for development. Such an approach could be a recommendation from the review but would require further approval and reports to Executive with costings.
The Portfolio Holder for Growth confirmed the biggest issue facing the Council was our ability to access external funding, which was significantly impacted by the qualification criteria used by the Government as the District simply didn’t rank deprived enough.
A Ward Member agreed the District required a bigger and better profile at a national level to secure funding.
The Committee Chair questioned to what extent online shopping had impacted local town centres as they were aware this was having a huge issue nationally. Two of the local Ward Members agreed but noted that the McArthur Glen centre was always busy.
A Ward Member suggested that the ideal Review recommendation would be a partnership approach between Development, Planning and Leader’s Executive & Partnership team across all four centres within the Framework Area- South Normanton, Pinxton, Blackwell and Tibshelf. It may also require cross-area or even cross-District work for greenways and cycle routes which would require work with DCC Highways.
Members supported this suggestion and agreed to start with South Normanton as a pilot area, with further roll-out following evaluation of the approach.
Moved by Councillor Jim Clifton and seconded by Councillor Derek Adams
RESOLVED that (1) the contents of the report and appendices be noted,
(2) the findings for this area be compared with the previous Framework area reviews, as part of the formulation of the final Review report and recommendations,
(3) a pilot approach to re-development/investment be operated in South Normanton and then, following evaluation of its success, rolled out to the remaining other three centres within the South Normanton Framework area.
(Director of Economic Development, DDL/ Business Growth Manager/ Scrutiny & Elections Officer)