Council bids to revive town centre’s fortunes through government scheme

The empty building in Clacton town centre that until recently was home to Marks & Spencers

The empty building in Clacton town centre that until recently was home to Marks & Spencers - Credit: Archant

An Essex town centre which suffered a major blow when prestigious retail chain Marks & Spencer closed its doors last year is launching a bid for central government funding.

Clacton is set to try for Future High Streets funding after suffering big-name store closure announcements for outlets in Pier Avenue, including Marks & Spencer, Mothercare and Claire’s Accessories. There are also plans for the post office to vacate its High Street premises and relocate inside WH Smith.

The town hit a low when Marks & Spencer closed its Clacton outlet, in a council-owned building, and opened a food store in nearby Walton-on-the-Naze the following day.

MORE – As one flagship Marks and Spencer store moves out, what next for the empty town centre retail space?

But the chain closures, which were part of national store strategies, prompted the launch of Clacton Town Centre Working Group with the aim of reviving its fortunes.

The group, set up by Tendring District Council, brought together town centre stakeholders to look at ways of improving the area. The council will now submit a bid by March 22 to the fund, which can contribute up to £25m for projects, but only accepts bids for town centres facing “significant challenges”.

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“We expect places to come forward with proposals that cover high streets or town centres as defined as areas that exhibit high levels of social and economic activity, that contain a variety of uses and functions and that act as important service centres for extensive catchment populations,” the fund says.

Council leader Neil Stock said: “This is an opportunity that fits well with our council priorities and of course the ongoing work of the Clacton Town Centre Working Party, and this is clearly not an opportunity we want to miss out on.

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“Crucially districts can make only one bid for one town centre per district. We have many small towns in Tendring across the district and all could benefit, but we can only go for one and Clacton has that critical mass which is necessary for this project.

“The Expression of Interest is not a commitment for a specific direction or project – rather it is a pitch to Government that Clacton should be one of the towns included in the High Street Futures Fund programme.”

The two-stage application process involves an initial expression of interest. Successful bids will be announced in July, after which a full business case process will be entered.

“This is hopefully the first step in a really positive direction for Clacton town centre,” said Mr Stock.

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