QUICK decisions on funding bids worth £50 million are critical to Swindon's recovery from the coronavirus lockdown.

That is the view of the councillor in charge of the town centre, Dale Heenan, who has urged the government to act swiftly and give the borough the best chance of bouncing back.

The council has bid for £25m from the government’s Future High Streets fund and wants to use it to construct a £30m 'bus boulevard' on Fleming Way.

It is also putting together bids for up to £25m from the government’s Town Deal specifically to help with recovery from lockdown.

Coun Heenan has issued a plea in a letter to the secretary of state at the department of housing, communities and local government.

In it, he told Robert Jenrick: “We are ready and waiting to help the government and our local businesses realise our ambition for improving Swindon but in order to proceed, we would be grateful for two actions from you: An early decision in July on Swindon's Future High Streets fund bid and fast-tracked approach to agreeing a Swindon Town Deal by October 2020.”

He wrote: “It is our intention to put in place a long-term strategy to guide economic restoration. A major part of that strategy is our programme of major infrastructure projects across the borough including at junctions 15 and 16 of the M4, consolidating Swindon’s fantastic location and connectivity, unlocking homes and jobs in two major urban extensions.

“The response so far is incredibly positive, with companies already identifying our town as the ideal place to invest and create jobs.

“The proposed public realm improvements presented by the bus boulevard proposal will ‘raise the bar’ for Swindon and ensure that we have a town centre commensurate with other competing towns in the region.

“Companies like Whitbread are buoyed by our plans, already pledging to spend £17m on a new Premier Inn and other restaurants in the town centre.

"Zurich’s new £35m office block will ensure one of our major employers remains in Swindon for years to come. Companies have indicated their interest in Swindon precisely because of the proactive vision that is demonstrated by the bus boulevard project.

“With support and backing from two of the town’s major commercial landowners and both main bus companies, the catalyst provided by the bus boulevard will encourage further regeneration of the town centre, improved connectivity between the rail station, central shopping and employment areas and a significant boost to the attractiveness of Swindon as a place to invest.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re grateful to everyone at Swindon Borough Council for all their hard work to support their community during this national emergency and we are backing the town as they respond and recover.

“Swindon has received more than £11 million of emergency funding to deal with the immediate pressures they’ve told us they’re facing, while its core spending power rose by over £10 million this financial year even before additional emergency funding was announced.

“In December 2019 Swindon received £173,000 from government to support the development of a Town Deal Board and Investment Plan. We look forward to seeing Swindon’s proposals for a Town Deal.

“Separately, Swindon have received £150,000 and direct support from an MHCLG official in their bid for up to £25 million from the Future High Streets Fund and decisions on this will be made in the autumn.”

But the Labour group in Swindon’s spokesman on economic regeneration, Jim Robbins, was not impressed by Coun Heenan’s letter.

He said: “Is Coun Heenan seriously suggesting that the administration’s plan for Fleming Way will ensure we have a town centre that competes with Bath, Bristol or Oxford? That is a laughable suggestion.

“While we support the plan to remove the bus station, it should have been done years ago, as it is a disgrace to a town like Swindon. The plan to develop Kimmerfields is over a decade late.

“It is clear the administration is unable to manage regeneration schemes, they just lurch from disaster to disaster while the town centre languishes unloved as more and more key shops move out.

"Other towns and cities rushed to use government cash back in April to promote access for cyclists and pedestrians, and develop new space for social distancing, while Swindon’s administration has done nothing yet, and clearly has no plan B for the town centre should they fail to get the government cash.

“Swindon deserves better than this stale, lethargic and out-of-touch administration.”