New 1m Great Yarmouth town centre fund

 1m Great Yarmouth town centre fund

A NEW 1m fund to further boost Great Yarmouth town centre is among targeted investment in public priorities recommended by the borough council s cabinet on February 11th 2015.

Full council will meet on Tuesday, February 17th to discuss the proposed budget, which also includes freezing council tax to help hard-pressed residents, measures to boost the borough council s efficiency and reduce costs, and extra investment in jobs, housing and leisure.

Recently, the borough council held a public consultation aiming to develop a strong vision for the borough, setting out what people want the area to be like in 10 to 20 years, and how this could be achieved, to guide the work of the borough council and potentially other local organisations and people.

There were 926 responses to the 12-week questionnaire, followed by informed discussions with residents, councillors and other interested parties to further understand people s aspirations, plus ideas submitted by more than 350 young people.

Cllr Brian Walker, the cabinet member for resources, said: Key consultation feedback highlights the need to regenerate areas, address concerns around Great Yarmouth town centre, promote and upgrade the tourism offer, improve the physical environment, and improve housing. Economic development and regeneration is also identified as a particularly high service priority.

Cabinet recommends that full council should reflect these public priorities in setting the 2015/16 budget. In particular, the town centre remains vital to the local community and economy, but the role and visitor expectations of town centres across the UK are changing.

The one-off 1m will help create a better impression of the town centre and improve the visitor experience, encouraging local pride and private sector investment, while helping to steer the town centre s future role.

Following efficiency work, cabinet also proposes that the borough charge for a band D equivalent property should remain at 146.48 from April 1 to help hard-pressed residents.

The proposed town centre initiative, currently in the early stages of development, would focus on making the town centre more attractive for residents, tourists and potential investors, initially through a package of visible improvements agreed with traders, the town centre partnership and the police, with the aim of making a difference in 2015.

Improvements could include increasing street cleaning, upgrading litter bins, seating, other street furniture and flower beds, improving lighting, commissioning new public art, better use of signage, and upgraded shop fronts.

In the longer-term, the borough council, using the results of the public consultation, would work with the town centre partnership, property owners, and the public to develop a vision for the town centre s role for the next 10 to 20 years, and how this could be achieved.

Elsewhere in the budget, cabinet proposes to allocate 7.6m over the next three years to invest in the Marina Centre and the Phoenix Pool, on top of the 3.5m previously allocated to upgrade the Marina Centre, bringing these leisure facilities into the 21st century.

Further details will be announced in due course.

It is also proposed that funds are earmarked for the continued expansion of Beacon Park business park, which is creating new jobs and attracting private sector investment, as well as for a potential housing development at the park, including an element of affordable homes, to meet local need.

The questionnaire results suggest that people want the borough council to continue to support a wide variety of priorities, but also indicate a remarkable openness to areas where higher service charges and new ways of working might be considered, alongside efficiencies and savings, to enable the continued support for services and extra investment required.

Early estimates indicated that reductions to the levels of public services would be highly likely in 2015/16.

While there have been some difficult decisions, the borough council s transformation programme, plus additional money from Government, means the estimated total budget gap over the next four financial years has reduced from 4.7m to 1.6m, with councillors now able to set a five-year balanced budget, while protecting or improving key frontline services.

Cross-party groups of councillors have worked with officers over recent months to find solutions to transform the borough council into an organisation which can continue to spend within its means, deliver high quality services, and retain the capacity to continue to freeze council tax and invest in the services that mean most to people.

The borough council has made significant savings through staff restructures and monitoring vacant posts, and found ways to create further year-on-year efficiency savings, including through the better use of IT and buildings, improving customer services, and reviewing and renegotiating external contracts.

While this turnaround of fortunes has been significant, and hard work, the council also plans to invest to reduce costs even more in future years.

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