How much has government awarded to Ashbourne and how much in total will be spent on these projects?
The government grant from its Levelling Up Fund is £13.4m and the total project will cost £15.2m. The difference of £1.8m is made up of various funding that different partners have committed to spend alongside the government grant.
How many places have got this funding and how competitive was the process?
For round two of the Levelling Up Fund there were 80 projects in England awarded funding out of a total of 370 bids. Ministers have said that the process was very competitive with a lot of strong bids making it through to the shortlist stage. Ashbourne has therefore done really well to secure this investment.
What will the money be spent on?
There are two projects. The first (£8.8m) will improve the highways and public realm throughout the core town centre. This will include works to Compton, Dig Street, St John Street and Buxton Road, together with improvements to the Market Place, Victoria Square, Millennium Square and Shrovetide Walk. The second project (£6.4m) will transform Ashbourne Methodist Church into a community hub, creating space for a wide range of community uses and events. Modern hostel style and family accommodation will also be provided together with a community garden and outdoor event space and a mobility hub including cycling facilities and real-time information for local buses. More information on the proposals is available here at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/ashbourne-reborn
Who decided what the money should be spent on?
Government invited bids from eligible local authorities and Derbyshire Dales District Council was the lead organisation for this particular bid. Ultimately it was the elected members of the district council who decided which projects would go forward. However, this decision was made following significant liaison with community groups and stakeholders across the district. The proposals for Ashbourne have been developed through a strong collaboration with local partners and there has been wide and deep support for the projects put forward within the bid.
Aren’t there better ways to use the money/can’t we change the projects or add new ones – there is plenty of money to go round?
We are not able to make any significant changes to the proposals that went into the bid – government now expects us to deliver the things that we said we would. The bid was developed with careful consideration of the likely costs and we have been realistic about these; in the current climate we certainly don’t expect there to be any spare cash unfortunately.
Why are the projects costing this much/it’s a huge amount of money surely we could expect more for our money?
The projects have been carefully costed and we believe the costs are realistic based on the current stage of design work. We have had to build in an allowance for inflation and for contingencies that may arise during development. The government assesses all the bids on value for money and both the projects included in our bid demonstrated good value for money.
Does Ashbourne really need this – aren’t there other places more in need of ‘levelling up’?
Yes, the town does need this investment. Our bid included clear evidence of the decline the town faces. Without this funding, and the additional private sector investment it will catalyse, we are facing further decline, more empty properties and a weaker local economy. When government categorised areas of the country eligible to bid, Derbyshire Dales was in the category of greatest need. The government based this on a systematic GB-wide prioritisation of need for economic recovery and growth, need for improved transport connectivity, and need for regeneration.
Wouldn’t this money be better spent on the relief road?
The rules for round two of the Levelling Up Fund (LUF) meant that we could not have used this bid to secure investment for the relief road. It was never an option for us to bid for that project; instead we put a lot of time into considering which projects would stand the best chance of success given the LUF rules and process.
Does this mean that the relief road won’t be happening/how does this affect the plans for the relief road?
Derbyshire County Council are continuing to develop the case for the relief road and that work will carry on regardless of the Levelling Up Fund projects. The success of the LUF bid won’t reduce our chances of securing funding for the relief road.
Why are we spending all this when there will still be HGVs in the town every day/this scheme won’t fix the real problem?
The changes that we will deliver through the Levelling Up Fund will make a big difference to how residents and visitors experience the town centre. The improvements to main roads through the centre will make people feel safer and reduce the dominance of traffic and its impact on the town. The scheme won’t remove the heavy vehicles but it will create a much better environment for pedestrians.
Who is going to deliver the projects?
The public realm and highways project will be delivered by Derbyshire County Council and it will be responsible for appointing organisations to carry out the detailed design and then deliver the works on the ground. Ashbourne Methodist Church will deliver the Community Hub project; again, it will decide which organisations to appoint to undertake detailed design and then the physical works on the building.
When will the work start? How long will it take?
We do not have firm start dates yet for the work, but we expect the work on the Community Hub to begin this year (2023) and be delivered in phases through to the middle of 2025. The works in the town centre are unlikely to start until early 2024 and will take more than a year in total, though this will be carefully managed to try and reduce disruption as much as possible. The government funding has to be spent by the end of March 2025, though this doesn't mean March 2025 will be the end date of the project itself.
Why is it going to take such a long time before the work starts?
With any project of this nature, there is a long lead in time in order to plan and design the work thoroughly. We want the improvements to be as effective as possible, of high quality and long-lasting. This requires careful work to design the best scheme we can within the available budget. Some of that lead-in time will also include opportunities for local people, businesses and organisations to have their say and engage with the emerging designs. We think this is really important and don’t want to cut short the time allowed for that part of the process. Some of the changes in both projects will also require planning permission and/or listed building consent, which also takes time to obtain.
Isn’t there problem with inflation/how can we be sure we don’t overspend?
An allowance for inflation has been included in the bid, although this was based on estimates at the time of bidding and we won’t know the actual impact of inflation and other cost pressures until we seek prices from the market. We are confident we have done our best to foresee rising costs. Project budgets will be tightly managed and the delivery partners have significant experience in managing contracts of this nature. There is no additional funding available so we will do all we can to avoid any overspending; if costs are rising more than we have forecast then we will look to adjust each project to stay in budget.
Why has the council employed lots of consultants/how much of the funding is going to be wasted on consultants?
It is simply not possible to submit a high quality bid – and secure this sort of investment – without using external specialists and bringing in extra capacity. Government awarded each place preparing a bid a grant of £125,000 to help with these costs. The district council has also used some of its own resources alongside this as it wanted to give itself the best possible chance of securing this investment for Ashbourne. There will be a further need for external support as we move into delivery of the bid; again, there are specialist skills and extra capacity we need that the council doesn’t have. The bid costs include provision for this as we knew that we needed to get these skills in place to stand any chance of delivering the schemes. We will be tightly monitoring all of the spend and making sure we get value for money throughout the project.
Won’t the projects cause disruption/how is the town centre going to function while all this work is going on?
It is not possible to make these improvements without causing disruption. What we are committed to is reducing that disruption as much as possible and working closely throughout the project with local businesses and stakeholders to work out how we can minimise the impact on them and their trade. The county council will be developing detailed traffic management plans to ensure there are appropriate alternative routes during periods when roads will need to close in the town centre. We know that local businesses support the changes as they will create a more vibrant town and strengthen the local economy; however, everyone appreciates that to deliver the change will be disruptive in the short term. Partners are committed to close communication and liaison with local businesses impacted during the highways/public realm work.
How are businesses going to cope with losing the parking in the market place?
There is capacity in car parks in the town without the market place and local businesses are supportive of the changes. Signage will be improved to these alternative car parks. The aim is to retain some short term parking, drop-off and delivery areas, the details of which will be developed at the next stage of design. The market place has historically been a focal point for activities, trade and people, not vehicles, and we want to restore this sense of vibrancy to the heart of the town.
How are we going to be able to hold local events while construction work is going on in the town centre?
We are aware of the strong programme of events that are held in Ashbourne and the significance of these for local identity, trade and vibrancy. Wherever possible we will phase the work in the town to avoid disrupting these events. However, it may be that dates and/or venues for some will need to change where this is possible. We are already talking now with partners as to the options, well ahead of any work starting.
What about Royal Shrovetide football?
Construction work in the town centre will commence after February 2024, so Shrovetide will be unaffected in 2024. Most construction work will take place between March 2024 and March 2025. So whilst some works are expected to be continuing in February 2025, it will be nearing the end of the construction period. Contractors already know that they will need to stop work and safeguard any remaining active sites to enable Shrovetide to carry on around them as normal in February 2025.
How are local people going to benefit from the work/will there be any jobs for local people?
All of the changes are aimed at improving our local economy and thereby the prospects for local people in terms of jobs, skills and future investment in the town. As well as these longer term benefits, we will be working with partners to include requirements for using local workers and suppliers within contracts for the delivery of the projects where we can. This will generate additional short-term benefits with money being kept within the local economy as much as possible.
What consultation took place about these projects/how will I be able to have my say about the proposals?
There has been significant consultation over many years regarding the proposals to develop a community hub at Ashbourne Methodist Church. This has included seeking views from local organisations who will hopefully use the new space for their events and activities. The proposals also obtained planning permission in 2021, a process that included formal consultation. The highways improvements are based on those introduced in the town on a temporary basis during the pandemic and feedback on those has been taken into account within the bid proposals. During the development of the public realm and highways project for the bid, views were sought from local organisations and businesses. The Ashbourne Town Team has promoted the changes and in doing so sought local views that have informed the proposals. In addition, some elements of the bid already have planning permission. AshCom has obtained planning for changes at Shrovetide Walk which was subject to consultation at the time and Ashbourne Town Council has similarly been through a formal consultation process to obtain planning for changes around the Millennium Clock.There will be further opportunities to engage on the plans as the detailed design work takes place in the coming months. In particular, the design work for the highways and public realm project includes a period for public and stakeholder engagement. Given that government funding is on the basis of the bid submitted, we are not consulting on any significant changes to the overall scheme; however, we are keen to get views on how this scheme is best developed and delivered to maximise the benefits for the town. Both the community hub detailed design and elements of the public realm project will also be subject to the formal planning process which will allow further opportunities for people to have their say.
Where can I find out what’s happening/why hasn’t there been more information about the proposals sent out to people?
There have already been several updates provided by the district council as well as regular features in the Ashbourne News Telegraph. Local partners have been promoting the bid and the local MP – Sarah Dines – has been keeping people informed about the proposals and her support for them.The district council has set up a dedicated section on its website at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/ashbourne-reborn with key information about the bid and the project plans. Regular bulletins and updates will be available on the website and via the district council’s Ashbourne Reborn newsletter – sign up at www.derbyshiredales.gov.uk/enewsreg We are working closely with partners to ensure we get out information as widely and effectively as possible. There will be a Town Team public meeting on 20th March at 6pm at Ashbourne Methodist Church where people can find out more about the bid and sign-up for further information. You can sign up for email updates (click the Ashbourne Reborn option).
What happens if there is a change of government and they decide to stop the funding?
The Levelling Up Fund has already been allocated by Treasury as part of the government’s spending review process and we do not anticipate there being any changes to the availability of that funding. Ashbourne is one of many places around the UK receiving Levelling Up Funding and if there was a change of government before the project is complete then we think it very unlikely that all these places would have their funding withdrawn. However, government is clear that we need to deliver on the bid we submitted in order for the funding to continue to flow to the project and so we are continuing to focus on putting everything in place to deliver as effectively as possible. The need to deliver the approved programme within the agreed budget is a key reason why changes and additions to Ashbourne Reborn cannot be entertained.
How is the work going to be procured? Can local businesses put in tenders?
The Government requires the work to be completed by March 2025, and because the Government announced Levelling Up Fund awards three months later than planned, timescales are tight. We are keen for local businesses to have the opportunity to bid for work where possible. This might include: the construction works for the Community Hub (due to be tendered later in 2023); sub-contractor / supply chain opportunities for public realm and highways works (early 2024).
Why wasn’t the council able to secure money for Matlock/Wirksworth/…, which needs investment?
The options for a bid for LUF were carefully considered by the council and reports taken to its Community and Environment Committee setting out the alternatives. Advice was sought from those involved in the previous round of the fund and it was decided that a bid focused on a single place would stand the best chance of success in what we knew would be a very competitive process. Plans for a series of projects in Ashbourne were further advanced than those in other towns and already enjoyed strong support from a range of local partners, with several elements having planning permission in place and match funding. For these reasons it was decided that a bid for Ashbourne would be the best approach for this particular fund. However, the council is continuing to work with local partners on future projects across the district so that it can support bids for other funding pots as and when they become available.
What are you planning to do with the Market Place and other areas once this work’s been done/ how will this money make any difference?
We are aware that whilst the physical changes funded by the LUF investment will make a big difference to the town’s environment, the vibrancy the town needs will also depend on how those spaces are used in the future. We are already working with local partners to develop options for a programme of activities, events and uses for these spaces once the work is complete. There are already some strong building blocks with the events running now and those that took place before the pandemic, so we are well placed to develop a strong programme. This is not just about the improved spaces in the town centre and the new facilities at the community hub; it will also include other key assets around the town such as the new Sports Pavillion, enabled by the District Council. Investing to improve our assets and spaces is an important first step and we look forward to local partners coming forward with ideas and creativity as to how we maximise the opportunities created through that investment.