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Area West Committee help fund new gateway into Chard

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Chard residents are set to see a new gateway into the town centre following a decision from Councillors to help fund the project from the Area West Committee capital reserve funds.

The Chard Gateway regeneration scheme is located at the Silver Street junction with Fore Street, opposite the historic Chard School. The scheme has been in existence since the 1990s but until now, work has not been able to go ahead either due to funding or lack of resources.

Now the scheme has finally got the go ahead when Area West Committee Members agreed to increase the commitment from the area capital reserve to £51,880 in order to progress implementation of the scheme. The estimated total cost of the work is set to be £97,193 with funding coming from the Town Council and another grant also.

Artists' impression of the new gateway set for Chard high street

Photo credit: LHC Design. Image shown is indicative and the area may look different once implemented to take into account any technical requirements.

The upgrade of the area, alongside a suite of other planned improvement to the public realm in Chard’s historic town centre, gives a real opportunity to improve the image of the town and for the town to become more appealing to business retailers, shoppers and visitors; aiming to increase footfall in the town centre itself.

The scheme complements the Boden scheme and work being done through High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) improvements to the look of the high street.

Councillor Jason Baker, Chairman of Area West Committee and portfolio holder for Chard Regeneration Scheme, said: “The Chard Gateway Scheme really gives the town a much more welcoming look and I am pleased that my fellow Committee Members resolved to support funding the implementation of the scheme.

“It’s not only that it gives the town a better look, but we need to think about the wider impact of having something like this – it gives a sense of feel-good factor, it helps to entice new businesses to the area, it gives independent businesses the sense of pride in the town and the confidence to set up business here, it helps to give a modern look and bring the town into the 21st century, it will help boost footfall because of all the above.

“We are now going to draw up the technical designs so we see a start to the scheme as soon as possible.”

Why have the project costs increased?

The initial projected cost was a generic estimate which was not based on a specification and did not include design fees, surveys, works and materials estimates or contingency. The request to additionally fund the scheme with £51,880 is because all of the above have now been taken into consideration.

It is possible that the projected cost reduces as the project progresses, for example through economies of scale in tendering the construction work alongside HSHAZ works, through the process of competitive tendering, or through the reduction of risk as surveys reveal more information about the site.

It is also possible to reduce the quality or scope of the scheme in order to reduce the estimated costs, so the current artist’s impressions do not show a final exact.

Why are you doing this now?

A Public Realm Strategy for Chard Town Centre has recently been created that looks at the town centre environment – for example how different areas of f central Chard connect, how space in the town centre is used and reviewing items such as street furniture. At the heart of the strategy is the desire to protect, enhance and celebrate Chard’s historic buildings and townscape character. It allowed priority areas for public realm improvements to be clearly identified across the town. The strategy includes the Gateway site as a priority project, putting it in the context of the ambition for wider town improvements.

This document has supported and informed the development of a successful bid to Historic England for the HSHAZ. This funding for Chard was announced earlier this year, and brings £1 million of Government high streets funding to the area. Matched by SSDC, a total of £2 million will be invested in the historic heart of Chard’s shopping area over the next 3½ years.

While the Council continues to support residents through the current Coronavirus pandemic, it is also important that we continue to plan for the future to support our recovery after the crisis. Projects like this will help boost the local economy by investing in the future. Further details about our Coronavirus support can be found below.

What other improvements are happening in Chard?

Hopefully, everyone is now very familiar with our Chard Regeneration Scheme which focuses on regeneration of the Boden Mill site in the centre of the town, and components include a new leisure centre and swimming pool, alongside a blend of housing and commercial developments. In addition to this, the scheme proposes a number of other measures to boost business in the town, support events and revitalise the market.

The leisure centre is currently in the process of being built and forms Phase 1 of the work on site. Testing of the swimming pool to ensure it is water tight happened earlier in November, meaning that contractors can start to build around the pool and make the building water-tight in the coming months.

As also mentioned, we have successfully received £1 million of Government high street funding through Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone programme and this has been match-funded by SSDC, giving a total of £2 million to spend in the historic heart of Chards shopping area.

This money will be invested in and around Chard Fore Street, including repairs to a number of historic buildings, renovating shopfronts and improving the streetscape to make it safer and more attractive to residents and potential visitors and shoppers.

Has Covid-19 had an impact on what you are doing in the town?

Essentially, no. We still continue to press ahead with all of our plans. At the beginning of the first national lockdown earlier this year, we had to stop building work at the regeneration site until Covid protocols had been put in place by the contractor, Speller Metcalfe.

Coronavirus appears to have had a bigger impact in the community of Chard and as a District Council, we are here to support our residents and businesses.

We are passionate about our high streets and dedicated to supporting our local business, especially during such uncertain times for many. We are doing our best to support local businesses in the run up to the Christmas period.

During the first national lockdown, as part of the Small Business Grants Fund for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund, we provided grants to nearly 3,000 small businesses across South Somerset, totally over £35 million.

Funding support is also available for businesses during the second current national lockdown and we are administering two schemes – a Local Restriction Support Grant whereby businesses can apply for a grant of up to £3,000 to cover the 28 day national lockdown period. We are also administering an Additional Restriction Grant where eligible businesses will be able to apply for a business support grant under our discretionary scheme.

Further information on both of these Business Support Grants can be found online.

We also recognise the impact of Covid-19 on our residents. We have a dedicated support area set up on our website which is packed full of useful information.

Covid-19 has had a wider impact on the community in Chard and has affected employers such as Oscar Mayer. As a District Council, we will look to work with Oscar Mayer and offer advice and support through our Economic Development service and seek to minimise the impact of any redundancies to staff, should that formal decision be taken after consultation.

We recognise that losing a job is a blow to anyone, and as a result, we have set up a dedicated area on our website for anyone who may be looking for work or education opportunities in the district.

Why spend additional money on this project when it could be used to help those affected by the impact of Covid-19?

Hopefully we’ve explained all of the benefits this scheme will bring to the town, including helping to bring more employers to the town which in turn generates more jobs for local people.

The funding is coming from Area West Committee’s capital reserve funds so isn’t an additional spend and has already been budgeted for. We have spent a lot of money in supporting our residents through the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to support residents as much as we possibly can by providing information, for example, about employment or training opportunities. Across our social media channels, we will also continue to signpost residents to other opportunities that are available through other organisations that can help or assist you.

Thank you. You response is appreciated.

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