Kingswood gets £25m bonanza
KINGSWOOD town centre will undergo a complete overhaul thanks to £25 million of government and council funding.
The regeneration is set to include the pedestrianisation of Regent Street and the creation of a new public open space that could host markets, performance arts and cultural events.
Funding will also cover re-routing traffic to promote cycling, walking and access to green spaces and local heritage sites.
The area was awarded £12.5 million from the Government’s Future High Streets fund in December. This has now been matched with £7.56 million from the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and a further £5 million from South Gloucestershire Council.
It follows on from £10 million for Kingswood in 2018 from WECA through the Love Our High Streets initiative.
The money will allow the council to buy up property and commercial premises which currently lie empty, so they can be reopened.
It will also pay for the full restoration of the historic Whitfield Tabernacle. Having lain derelict for three decades, the building will become a community venue offering family and evening entertainment.
Chair of the Whitfield Tabernacle trustees Anthony Hick said: “We don’t yet know the details of how this funding will be allocated to the various elements of the Kingswood bid, but we are hopeful that the funding will allow for further development of the Whitfield Tabernacle.
“Our vision is to restore the Tabernacle as a building that serves the whole Kingswood community, just as it did when John Cennick built it in 1741 with money raised by renowned preacher George Whitefield from the Kingswood miners.”
The contents of the bid for funding were decided following two public engagement exercises in 2020. A new public consultation will take place later this year to discuss the details of the regeneration scheme.
Once Regent Street is pedestrianised, traffic could by diverted either via Kimberley Road, Gilbert Road and Park Road, or via Blackhorse Road and Cecil Road.
Buses may still be allowed through the pedestrian area, or could be diverted through the existing bus gate into Moravian Road. The controversial bus gate saw nearly 5,000 vehicles fined for driving through it last year, generating £113,000 for the council.
A survey into the traffic proposals last year revealed that while 67 per cent of residents are in favour of the pedestrianisation of Regent Street, opinion was divided over which traffic diversion option would work best.
South Gloucestershire Council leader Toby Savage said: “This would be without a doubt the biggest investment ever made into Kingswood and I am delighted we are in such an unprecedented and exciting position to breathe new life back into this historic town centre.
“It is timely in so many ways as we do everything we possibly can to support our town centres as they face the extreme challenges of declining high-street retail, internet shopping boom and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I have been delighted to see urgent stabilisation works already happening to the Tabernacle alongside the Masters Church redevelopment and I am extremely excited about the opportunities we have to lead regeneration by acquiring empty and underused properties.”
It is hoped most work on the Tabernacle will take place this year, while the rest of the Kingswood scheme will be rolled out in phases once public consultation has taken place.
Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore said: “I am absolutely delighted to see the Government back our vision for Kingswood High Street.
“There is so much local ambition for a positive future of Kingswood town centre that respects our proud heritage.”