Published: March 15, 2012
£250,000 art regeneration plans for Highbridge are unveiled

A brand new £250,000 project to regenerate part of Highbridge town centre by creating an 'arts and crafts quarter' has been unveiled this week.

Under the proposals, a dozen boarded-up shops along Market Street would be transformed into workshops, studios and retail outlets to be used by artists and crafts people.

A group of Highbridge councillors, led by Phil Harvey, has put forward the plans to turn the town centre into a 'unique destination' with funding from the government's Coastal Communities Fund.

During a recent visit to Highbridge, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander suggested that the Burnham-On-Sea area could benefit from the fund, although town councillors have decided not to make an application this year, but submit a fully-researched bid in 2013.

Cllr Harvey told "Retailing in Highbridge is dominated by Asda at the northern end of the town. Market Street at the southern end has a significant number of empty shops and business premises."

"Realistically, Market Street is never going to be able to re-establish itself as a shopping street with a traditional mix of shops such as a greengrocer, butcher or grocer able to compete with the two supermarkets in the town. In addition to the difficulty of being able to compete on price, the existing premises are, in general, small and old-fashioned and therefore not suited to modern retail use."

"Highbridge's best option is to establish itself as a 'destination', somewhere that people go to because it offers something different. It needs a unique selling point that has proved to be successful in other towns faced with similar problems. Such an example is the successful turnaround of Catherine Hill in Frome from a street of empty shops to a thriving area dominated by arts and crafts."

"I am proposing that Market Street should therefore seek to become a community of artists and craftsmen and women in which the premises are both workshops, studios and retail outlets."

He added: "The rationale for this is that the vacant premises will not be able to attract high rental values, even with upgrading, but such premises may be attractive to those in the artistic and craft community seeking work and retail space."

"Also, establishing a number of such outlets provides synergy and establishes Market Street as a "destination" where a number of different but complementary arts and crafts can be viewed and purchased. This approach has worked well in other areas."

Cllr Harvey added that in order to achieve this, the support of landlords will be vital. "The willingness of landlords and agents to embrace the vision and to work together on a strategy to achieve it is essential - they will have to pool their efforts rather than work in competition. Secondly, we will also need in place the necessary finance and co-ordination and this is where the bid to the Coastal Communities Fund comes in. I think we will need at least £250,000 to take this fully forward."

Highbridge district councillor Joe Leach told he is backing the scheme.

"I think these proposals could greatly benefit Highbridge. It's good to see something definitive being put forward like this," he said.

"It's right that a bid for Coastal Communities Fund cash is not being rushed into by this month deadline - it needs plenty of time and to be fully researched with input from the people and businesses of Highbridge."

Cllr Harvey says the next step will be to discuss the proposals with Highbridge Chamber of Trade and other businesses ahead of work beginning on a formal application for funding.

Pictured: Cllr Phil Harvey and Joe Leach with a copy of the proposals


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