£15million investment in High Wycombe town centre

Buckinghamshire Council’s plans to make High Wycombe town centre proud of its past and fit for the future

Following a successful bid for Government money in 2019, High Wycombe is one of only 72 towns in the country to be awarded funding from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF). Buckinghamshire Council has committed to top up the £11.7million grant awarded by the Government to make a total investment of £15million.

The FHSF allocation has to be spent in segments over the next three years finishing on 31 March 2024. The Council’s delivery programme is frontloaded to benefit the town and also to demonstrate delivery against the Government’s criteria in order to continue to receive funding for years 2 and 3 of the scheme.

At today’s Cabinet meeting, Buckinghamshire Council committed to progress with the first phase of work as part of this key regeneration project for the town. Using the £6.7million grant funding from the first year of the Future High Streets grant, Buckinghamshire Council will make a number of proposed strategic property acquisitions.

The fund will help improve perceptions of the town and revitalise its older areas:

  • improving the town’s Southern and Western ‘Gateways’ – following on from the Council’s refurbishment of the Brunel building at the town’s ‘Eastern Gateway’ (the railway station), the FHSF programme will work on the Southern Gateway (properties fronting Abbey Way Gyratory and the Swan theatre frontage) and the ‘Western Gateway’ – downsizing retail floorspace with potential alternative use development.
  • re-purposing vacant shops by acquiring and refurbishing them and making them available to independent businesses at affordable rents
  • making better use of the under-utilised historic building under-croft space at the Grade II listed Little Market House (known locally as the Pepperpot Building) and the Guildhall in High Wycombe High Street.

Even before the impact of Covid, we knew that the way people use local high streets and town centres were changing. Big chains were already closing shops and people were going to their local high street for something more than shopping.

In High Wycombe, the former Wycombe District Council successfully pioneered a ‘Retail Recycling Units Fund’ (RRUF) scheme. The Council purchased strategic retail properties then redeveloped and successfully remarketed them in a way which helped to shape the character and offering in the town centre (a recent example being the Council’s ex Ottakers building in White Hart Street)

The RRUF scheme brought a new vibrancy to the town with distinctive hospitality businesses run by local entrepreneurs including The Works, Mad Squirrel, Bar Botanic, Lunch and Lata Lata. All these businesses are now running in once empty premises which the Council owned or acquired, redeveloped and then successfully remarketed.

Using the funding from the Future High Streets Fund, Buckinghamshire Council will extend this work with RRUF 2. This could include strategic property acquisitions in Church Street and High Street to change vacant retail properties into food and beverage businesses, experience-based uses and, if necessary, other uses that will support the town’s Covid-19 recovery.

The overall result will be to rebalance the town centre by reducing the number of former outdated retail units and opening them up to alternative users that are complementary to, but not in competition with, the significant mainstream retail offering available in the Eden Shopping Centre.

Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council says:

“It was great news when we heard we had won this funding for High Wycombe against some stiff national competition. Now we are ready to turn our ambitions for the town into reality and start our first phase of work. We’ve already successfully shown the benefits of buying up vacant properties to help to shape what the town can offer in the future. With this Government funding, we can do more to help to rebalance the surplus retail premises in the town and create more ‘experience’ based activity, especially in the historic heart of the town. Our aim is to create more reasons to come into town to meet up and enjoy doing something with friends and family rather than just come into town to shop.”

Jocelyn Towns Deputy Cabinet Member (Town Centre Regeneration) added:

“Our high streets play a vital role in the local economy and are at the heart of our towns and villages. With fundamental changes to the way we shop, we are looking at new and innovative ways to help keep our high streets vibrant and relevant, offering people more than retail.”