Swindon AdvertiserTown loses out again on Portas cash (From Swindon Advertiser)

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Town loses out again on Portas cash

Swindon Advertiser: Mary Portas Mary Portas

THE TOWN has again missed out on a parachute payment from the Government to boost its ailing high streets.

Both Swindon and Royal Wootton Bassett were among more than 370 authorities that applied to the Government to be among a host of areas to get a cash boost up to £100,000 as part of the so-called Portas Pilots scheme.

But neither town was named among the 15 new pilot areas local government minister Grant Shapps announced yesterday, to follow the 12 awarded funding in May Bids were invited following a review by retail queen Mary Portas in December last year and the second wave of ‘Portas pilots’ entitled beneficiaries to a share of £1.5m to help improve their town centres.

But, the minister pledged, those not selected so far will be able to bid for a share of a £5.5m pot for individual projects.

Simon Jackson, CEO of the town centre’s management company inSwindon, said: “We are disappointed obviously and it would have been a lot easier to do what we hope to do in the long term with this money.”

The news also comes after the latest survey by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors revealed conditions in Swindon’s commercial property market remain challenging, with vacant property increasing, thanks to recent receiverships involving Game, La Senza and Millets creating abnormally high shop vacancy levels in Swindon town centre.

After the first failed bid, the group – made up of local councillors, Forward Swindon, inSwindon and Justin Tomlinson MP – made changes to focus on three targets, including a new public space and a property database.

Mr Jackson said he believed Swindon was actually ahead of the curve in terms of establishing a management company and a community space in Wharf Green.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said.

“The legacy of this scheme is not just about the £100,000 – that would be nice of course, but by applying we have become a town team partner so we have access to the information and advice the other towns get.

“We certainly reviewed our first application and put a lot more detail into it, but it is interesting to note that compared to those that received the money, Swindon is already in a good position.

“For example one successful application wanted to establish a bid company, just like inSwindon, while another was to set up a crime partnership, which we have had in the town centre for years now with radio and intelligence.

“I think the issues that affect town centres affect them on a national scale, but I don’t think there is room for the word deserving – all towns need help.”

Mr Jackson added it was too early to say whether there would be a fresh bid for the remaining pot of £5.5m for an individual project.

The latest winners were Ashford, Berwick, Braintree, Brighton, Hatfield, Royal Leamington Spa, Liverpool, the Waterloo area of central London, Forest Hill in south London, Tower Hamlets, Loughborough, Lowestoft, Morecambe, Rotherham and Tiverton.

They followed Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Greater Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton, who won in May this year.

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