£20m bid for Forest education opportunities, leisure facilities and regeneration
By Sarah Wood | 4th June 2021
"The best £20m the government will spend on the Levelling Up Fund." That's the hope of Cllr Tim Gwilliam, the leader of Forest of Dean District Council.
Details have been released of an ambitious bid for £20m to the Government's Levelling Up Fund being pulled together by Forest of Dean District Council, Hartpury University, Hartpury College and Cinderford Town Council.
If successful, the bid would aim to improve leisure and community facilities, introduce new further and higher education opportunities, repurpose vacant buildings and grow the local economy across the Forest. Retaining young, local talent in the area is a key driver for the bid partners.
Tim Gwilliam, leader of Forest of Dean District Council, said, "If successful this funding would be a huge boost to the area, bringing new opportunities and helping us improve lives across our district.
"The three linked projects in this bid are incredibly exciting and would build connections across the Forest, provide new jobs and new education opportunities, encourage cohesive communities and help people stay active and healthy through great new sports and leisure facilities.
"We want to raise aspirations, support ambition and provide new opportunities to help build a better future for people across the Forest, especially our young people."
The bid package will consist of a £9m investment at the Five Acres site, bringing new leisure and sports facilities and flexible community space to the area, including a satellite facility for Hartpury University and Hartpury College. There is also a new £10m University Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Learning Centre at Hartpury University and Hartpury College and an £880k building refurbishment programme in Cinderford town centre.
Speaking at a press briefing attended by Punchline-Gloucester.com editor Mark Owen, Cllr Gwilliam said: "I use the term a 'generational opportunity'. This bid isn't about a quick fix. We want this bid to have a legacy.
"While it might be concentrated on certain areas, all the of the Forest will benefit. This funding and the developments that will happen because of it can be the catalyst for truly sustainable and viable growth and regeneration for the entire Forest."
The proposal for the Five Acres site is to create a new leisure and community hub which would bring the derelict site back into use, providing modern leisure, community and business facilities for the area and an artificial all-weather sports pitch. It would also include a satellite site for Hartpury University and Hartpury College, bringing new education opportunities for young people to the Forest.
The flagship University Innovation, Careers and Enterprise Learning Centre, which would be built on the current Hartpury University and Hartpury College site, would support the growth in student numbers, providing new opportunities to over 16s in the Forest. The centre would focus on encouraging and supporting local young people to stay in education or start their own business in the area.
Russell Marchant, vice-chancellor, principal & CEO of Hartpury University and Hartpury College, said: "Hartpury is excited about the potential of this bid. A key element is how to raise aspirations in young people in the Forest and how we raise participation in post-16 education.
"When we look at national figures, we see that the participation rate at post-16 in the Forest is one of the lowest in the country. That has to be addressed. A key part of that is building a world class careers and enterprise learning centre here at Hartpury. That will enable us to build on the services we provide to students at Hartpury, but also to students and learners in the Forest of Dean."
In Cinderford, the proposal includes the regeneration of a number of key buildings across the town centre, bringing them back into use to provide modern co-working spaces for start-up businesses and a new community facility, providing great spaces for residents to live, work and socialise.
Across all three sites, there is a focus on reaching net zero carbon through the installation of electric vehicle and bike charging points, the use of solar power and by encouraging sustainable travel.
It is anticipated that the combined bid would bring over 30 new jobs to the area and provide the facilities needed for new businesses to grow, bringing with additional jobs and opportunities for local people.
The bid is being backed by Forest of Dean MP, Mark Harper.
He said: "The strength of the bid is the partners working together, using the different skills and expertise they have, which means that it's a better bid. It is important to demonstrate to Government that we've got the capacity and the experience to deliver the bid.
"Government wants local MPs to very involved and to support the bid. I've been working closely with the partners all the way through this and will be able to talk to my ministerial colleagues and explain why I think it's a very strong bid."
Punchline says: "This is a really exciting development for the Forest of Dean, never before have the different areas linked so closely. The big question is, will the council ensure these contracts go to local companies, rather than a big corporate contractor from outside the local area? This isn't just about the builders, it's the whole supply chain from subcontractors to skip hire and printers. This money will really make a difference in the Forest."
Residents can find out more about the bid by visiting the Forest of Dean Council website.
The bid proposal will be taken to the Forest of Dean District Council Cabinet before it is submitted on the 18th June deadline set by the Government. A decision on funding is expected to be made in the autumn.
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