Government funding bid to boost shopping centre

PUBLISHED: 09:26 13 March 2019

Trinity House department store in Axminster whose closure has been announced. Picture Chris Carson

Trinity House department store in Axminster whose closure has been announced. Picture Chris Carson

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Axminster to apply for cash from the Future High Streets Fund

Axminster will be put forward as the East Devon town to try and grab a share of a £675m fund to ‘help failing High Streets’ – ahead of Cranbrook.

The district council’s cabinet has agreed to submit a bid for the market town to benefit from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.

Councillors had to choose between Axminster and Cranbrook as the town to put forward as local authorities are expected to ‘put forward a single, transformative submission covering one high street or town centre in their area’.

Council leader Ian Thomas said the decision was a ‘poisoned chalice’ between two fundamentally different propositions – with Axminster having a town centre that is struggling and Cranbrook not yet having one.

But the cabinet voted by six votes to two to put forward a bid for Axminster, although Cllr Thomas said that as East Devon is the top ranking local authority in Devon in the vibrant economy index, he ‘wasn’t holding his breath that any bid would be a success’.

Cllr Andrew Moulding put forward the case for Axminster, saying the town needed it, particularly given the news that broke this week that Trinity House, the town’s department store, will close in September.

He said: “Axminster is scheduled to grow with 850 new homes and 2,600 new residents a 26 per cent increase. The town has suffered for many years but the Webster’s garage site at the heart of the town is the key for regeneration.

“The Trinity House closure makes bidding for the Future High Street Fund imperative for Axminster. The vacant site at Webster’s garage could be the key to unlocking regeneration for Axminster and I think we need this more than Cranbrook.”

But Cllr Kevin Blakey, chairman of Cranbrook Town Council, said that the current town centre in Cranbrook was just green space and undeveloped except for a pub.

He said: “Surely Axminster cannot be in as much need as Cranbrook?”

Cllr Iain Chubb, who lives in Axminster, said he would have to promote the town where he resides. But he added: “Axminster could attract people from Dorset and Somerset and the money spent and knowledge gained in Axminster could be used through the rest of East Devon.”

Officers will now work to submit an Expression of Interest bid to the Government by the March 22 deadline.

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