Old Town could be the latest area of Swindon to benefit from significant government funding after Swindon Borough Council submitted a bid to The High Streets Heritage Action Zones programme.
The £40m funding programme forms part of the Government’s Future High Street Fund and has been allocated to Historic England for work to support historic high streets.
The council is bidding for £2m to invest in high-quality public space along High Street and into Wood Street to complement the redevelopment of the nearby Old Town Hall and Corn Exchange.
If successful, the funding would also be used to identify and address a current shortage of parking in Old Town, improve the directional signage in the Old Town area and use signage to highlight buildings of historical significance.
A project officer to co-ordinate projects and liaise with local groups would be appointed to oversee the investment within the Old Town Conservation Area.
The bid has been supported by groups such as the Old Town Business Association, Friends of Swindon and Museum and Art Gallery, and Prospect Place Conservation Trust.
It is hoped a successful Historic High Street bid will replicate the work taking place in the Heritage Action Zone in the town’s Railway Village where funding from Historic England is being used to bring community groups together to improve heritage buildings and the local environment. One of the aims of the HAZ is also to secure funding for the Mechanics’ Institute.
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for the Town Centre, said: “Old Town was Swindon's original town centre in the 1850s and is a feather in Swindon’s cap. It is where you find our independent shops, restaurants and nightlife.
“The charm of Wood Street and its successful local businesses continue to draw people in, and it is important we do everything we can to bring Cricklade Street, the High Street and the Corn Exchange back to their former glory.
“I believe Old Town should be recognised as a Historic High Street, and this is why we have applied for £2 million in funding. It is a long shot, but we must be more positive about our town, try to find ways to make visible improvements to the area outside of the Corn Exchange, and promote an area of Swindon which played such a key role in our town's history.”
Local ward councillor Nick Burns-Howell, who has been working with the Old Town Business Association to back the bid, said: “Old Town is blessed with fantastic independent businesses, shops and restaurants alongside a unique history and of course our wonderful heritage buildings.
“I’m delighted to back the bid for funding which will help build on this heritage and secure Old Town’s future. We should be focused on making us one of the best shopping and leisure destinations, not just in Swindon, but for the surrounding area.
“I’m determined that we continue to support local businesses and breathe new life into the Corn Exchange and protect it for generations to come and a successful bid would help us supercharge existing plans.”
Richard Deacon, chairman of the Old Town Business Association, said: "I am excited by the opportunity of getting heritage funding to improve the general appearance of Old Town, the jewel in Swindon's crown."