£1.5million fund to enhance Stowmarket town centre

09 Jul 2024

Mid Suffolk District Council is set to create a £1.5million fund to enhance Stowmarket town centre.

The Stowmarket Town Centre Gateway Fund would be made possible thanks to the council’s income from its investment in the Gateway 14 business park on the edge of the town.

The first step would be working with landlords to bring under-utilised properties, including empty shops, back into use. This could involve the council buying buildings, renting them for a short term or helping to support refurbishment.

Potential occupiers wanting a town centre presence would then be supported to find a location – opening the door for new businesses, pop-ups and other ventures looking to launch their first store or space.

The types of use that would be encouraged include arts and cultural experiences, tourism, community activities, retail, small business workspaces, leisure, food and drink and activities that bring something new to the town.

A report outlining the proposals will go to Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet on 15 July. If the new fund is agreed, it will go to full council for approval later this month.

Cllr Richard Winch, cabinet member for Housing and Property, said: “We are proud of Stowmarket and want to do all we can to help the town centre thrive. It is the beating heart of our community and important for the entire district – not just the town itself. This fund presents a fantastic opportunity to do something new and stimulate investment.”

The town’s high street unit vacancy rate of 8% outperforms the East of England average, which is 12.5%.

Cllr Winch added: “All town centres face challenges, including from the huge growth in online shopping, and are having to reinvent themselves.

“No single organisation has all the answers, but by working with partners in Stowmarket, we are confident we can help create exciting new opportunities that support a sustainable and vibrant future.”

Mid Suffolk will work alongside key partners such as Stowmarket Town Council, private sector owners, businesses and potential occupiers to find long-term solutions.

The initiative aims to bring new attractions to the town centre, creating a more resilient mixed-use future and extra reasons to visit.

Cllr Teresa Davis, cabinet member for Thriving Communities, said: “Stowmarket is growing well and, with time, the right ingredients can further enhance it as a place to live, work and visit.

This £1.5 million fund is just one of those ingredients, and I look forward to seeing the impact it can have.”

Cllr Colin Lay, lead member for Stowmarket, added: “We want to increase opportunities for innovation and creativity. Things like art and cultural experiences, pop-ups, shop front improvements, kick-starting local business concepts and the evening economy. We want to see uses that are complementary to what the town already offers.”

Any profits from the town centre initiative would be reinvested into the scheme.

Funding comes from income the council receives from its investment in the Gateway 14 business park, which is taking shape on the outskirts of Stowmarket.

More than 1,600 jobs have already been created there, with other new developments in the pipeline – including the council’s own £18m Skills and Innovation Centre.

Cllr Winch said: “This shows yet again the positive impact Gateway 14 is having, not just creating skilled jobs and new opportunities on the business park itself, but providing significant income to reinvest in Stowmarket.”

Elsewhere in the town, the council is also investing in new sporting facilities on land surrounding Stowmarket High School and Chilton Fields, while the redevelopment of the former Middle School into 44 affordable homes is also nearing completion.