Having the vision to rejuvenate Kirkham

Elaine Silverwood on Kirkham high street
Elaine Silverwood on Kirkham high street
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A MARKET town is set to lobby leading councillors for Government cash after missing out on a vital and prestigious grant.

Kirkham failed in its bid to become part of shopping guru Mary Portas’ town centre project – but business leaders have now set their eyes on a £100,000 pot handed to Fylde Council to improve high streets in the borough.

Councillors from the town have often complained they have been forgotten during extensive renovation work in St Annes and Lytham, and were left incensed when Ansdell was handed £200,000 out of this year’s budget to carry out improvements to the Woodlands Road shopping area.

The leader of the town’s business group, Coun Elaine Silverwood, had put together a bid for the Government’s Portas Pilot Project in an effort to get a special grant dedicated to improving the town and advice from the so-called Queen of Shops herself.

But despite months of hard work they missed out when the list of 12 lucky towns was revealed last week – something Coun Silverwood said was “difficult” to take.

She said: “I saw the 12 schemes which got the Portas money and what they were using the money for. It’s really hard for us because I looked at their ideas and thought we already do that.

“Of course we know our signage needs to be better to promote the fact we have free car parking, but we can’t do that because we haven’t got the money.

“It is really hard to look at the submissions and see the ones which have been successful when we have got up and done that on our own already.

“We have all the ideas and enthusiasm and passion but it has got to the point where we can’t follow them through without the money.

“And with the Portas scheme it wasn’t just the money, it was the high profile which came with it. I believe the successful towns will find other funding bodies wanting to join in and share their limelight.”

The Portas Pilot Project was launched following a Government-commissioned review of town centres undertaken by Ms Portas.

As a result, she recommended a variety of initiatives be implemented by high streets, including affordable town centre parking, disincentives for landlords who leave shops empty, and “town teams” made up of landlords, consumers, shops and councillors who would be put in charge of improving main shopping areas.

Every town which put forward a bid for the £100,000 of public money had to explain how it would improve high streets and what it would do with the cash.

Successful towns included Dartford, Kent, which wants to open up central spaces to be used by classes and clubs – such as Scouts and Slimming World – as well as start a school for shopkeepers, and Bedminster, Bristol, which hopes to become a hub for street art and street theatre.

The only Lancashire town to be successful was Nelson, which wants to use the cash to attract more students with a young persons cafe, sports activities and a new art and vintage market.

Coun Silverwood, who also co-owns Poulton Street bookstore and ice-cream parlour SilverDell, is keeping the details of Kirkham’s scheme firmly under wraps, as the Government has said a second round of towns will be chosen in July.

She added: “What we’ve highlighted is we have to attract more families on to our high street, that’s what market research has shown us. The Government said it was overwhelmed by all the submissions for the Portas Pilot Project, and it will do another round for another 15 towns at the end of July. Those towns which have already made a submission will automatically go into the next round.”

Kirkham may have missed out on the Portas cash to realise its vision this time, but Coun Silverwood now has her eye on another pot of money already awarded to Fylde Council.

The council was one of 100 local authorities which received £100,000 in April based on a high level of town centre vacancies – and Coun Silverwood firmly believes Kirkham deserves it.

The destination of the cash will be decided by Fylde Council’s cabinet later this month, and Coun Silverwood said: “My next step is to get this money Fylde is in receipt of.

“I have asked Fylde MP Mark Menzies to help me lobby the chief executive and explain to him why we are worthy of receiving that £100,000.

“Meanwhile, I will be calling a meeting of the town team and looking at the Portas submissions which were successful and seeing if our plan needs tweaking.

“We will definitely pursue the second round and see if we are successful – my concern was the Portas scheme would be very subjective, and compared to those towns with a very high percentage of empty shops, we probably look okay.

“But we don’t have the spread of independent shops we need like butchers and greengrocers – at the moment – we don’t have the spread a market town needs.”