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Race on for communities to seek town centre cash; GOVERNMENT FUNDING ? Highland Council allocated PS2.9m for improvement schemes.

Byline: SUSY MACAULAY

N orth communities are up against the clock to bid for a share of a new Scottish Government Town Centre Fund.

Highland has been allocated PS2.9 million from a PS50m capital pot, and has apportioned more than PS2.8m of it so far to be spent in communities of 1,000 people or more.

The towns must bid for a share of the pot that the Scottish Government says will encourage towns to diversify and flourish, giving new purpose and creating footfall through "transformational" projects.

But projects must be tender-ready by November and the money spent by March 2020 or returned.

Highland Council, through its area committees, will decide which projects succeed and is seeking tenders to be issued in early November.

In Caithness the PS265,290 fund is being competed for by Wick and Thurso.

For Wick, the money is crucial to regenerate its town centre - described by its own councillors as "uninspiring, cold and dominated by concrete."

Councillor Nicola Sinclair said: "We've been working on projects for Wick for the past two years.

"The ones we're taking forward include tackling derelict buildings and empty shop units, a shopfront grant scheme to help owners improve their premises and work towards a coherent visual identity for the town centre, and a resurfacing and landscaping of the Riverside Car Park to function as a key hub for visitors."

Thurso Community Development Trust (TCDT) is basing its bid on its strategy to develop tourism and make the town a destination as well as a gateway to Orkney and the NC500.

Joan Lawrie, TCDT's project manager said: "We're lucky that most of our shops are independent, but they're on the brink.

"We need to make sure they can keep going so we're looking at grants for shopkeepers to help them take care of our oldest, most architectural buildings."

In other parts of Highland, NairnBID's Michael Boylan said: "We have relevant projects that would make a positive impact and look forward to having further discussions with Highland Council and others on how this money can make a difference to the town centre, its businesses and the local community."

Smaller communities are rallying to discuss the possibilities the fund offers.

Conon Bridge is one of 14 towns within Ross & Cromarty earmarked for a share of the PS982m allocated to the area.

It has convened a public meeting to discuss ideas, but faces the prospect of not meeting the deadline.

Community council secretary John Bruce said: "Whatever we do needs to be well thought out and costed with a proper business plan."

CAPTION(S):

REGENERATION: Wick has many traditional stone buildings but local councillors have themselves criticised the "uninspiring" town centre

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Publication:The Press and Journal (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Date:Jun 20, 2019
Words:449
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