Warwickshire County Council today ratified the Cabinet decision to invest nearly £19.5m of its Capital Investment Fund to continue the Transforming Nuneaton project and build a new library, café and business centre in the town.
As well as providing a state-of-the-art library which is fit for purpose in the 21st century, the investment is being heralded as being a key landmark in creating a vibrant economy in the town centre, bringing businesses into the town centre and unlocking other land in the area for private sector development
The development is earmarked for the Church Street area currently occupied by Wilkos, Powell House and the Royal Mail. The buildings and land are owned by Warwickshire County Council and Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, having been acquired with funding from the Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP). Ongoing development is already taking place in Vicarage Street with the creation of a 50 retirement apartment scheme.
The new building to be funded by the allocation approved by Council will comprise a state-of-the-art library, café and business centre. This will be an L-shaped structure with the library occupying the ground floor, with the café complementing that offer, and accommodating pods for registration services, make a space, the town’s first fully accessible changing and toilet facility and an informal event space.
The first floor will consist of office space for county council staff and the business centre reception, which will be part of the county council’s suite of business centres and generate revenue for the county council once occupancy reaches the target level. It will offer approximately 70 highly flexible offices, aimed at small start-ups.
The offer will also fulfil the county council’s commitment to a low carbon footprint. The design incorporates photovaltic panels, electric vehicle charging points and showers and cycle stores to encourage zero carbon travel.
Transforming Nuneaton is a partnership between Warwickshire County Council, Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership. It is aiming to create a vibrant town centre with a mix of accommodation, office space, a community hub in the form of a public building (library).
It will improve and expand the leisure offer, enhance the retail offer, create housing development opportunities and improve the public transport and cycling infrastructure in and around the town centre.
Transforming Nuneaton is about more than simply creating a vibrant town centre. It is also looking at how Nuneaton can market itself as an attractive proposition to visitors or prospective businesses and has addressed some of the traffic issues that reflected negatively on perceptions of the town.
To date there have been various infrastructure projects completed as part of the programme including the award-winning traffic project at Coton Arches which used an innovative hamburger design to alleviate the congestion at the entrance to the town when approaching from the A444.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, Leader and portfolio holder for economic development at Warwickshire County Council, said
“This is fantastic news for Nuneaton and the biggest landmark to date for the Transforming Nuneaton project.
“It will create a superb community facility in the shape of the library and café which will bring people into the town and provide a real focal point for the community. The top class facilities will make it a real asset to the community and fit for purpose in the 21st century.
“The business centre will also be a major boon for the town centre, bringing in a sense of entrepreneurship and inspiration, creating jobs in the area and providing a base of people who will be coming to the town centre and spending time there. It is a major step in us creating the town centre that Nuneaton deserves and reinvigorating the local area.”
Cllr Julie Jackson, Leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council said:
“I am delighted to see the Transforming Nuneaton project making headway. There was an identified need to provide a broader choice of premises for small to medium enterprises, and the diverse range that the centre will allow makes an attractive offer for fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs.”
“The next steps will be to look to private developers to continue the evolution of the town centre once the gateway has been completed. All of these assets combined will help to build a town fit for future generations and one that exceeds expectations.”
Nick Abell, vice chair of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It is great to see the project progressing. This is a major landmark in transforming the area into the town which will encourage more leisure and business visitors to a key part of Warwickshire.
“The business centre which will be created will encourage more SMEs to base their enterprises in Nuneaton which will be a boost to the economy and the business sector.”
The new library and business centre
The library: In a more prominent location than the existing library, expectations are that it will generate more visitors with subsequent increased footfall into the town centre. The current library has an estimated 182,000 visits per year.
The new library will It will occupy the same floor space as the existing library and form the ground floor of the L-shape complex to be constructed on Church Street along with the café and the entrance to the business centre.
It will provide a new facility with all modern technologies including the Make a Space facility alongside accommodating pods for registration services, meeting rooms and informal event space. The building will also feature the first fully accessible changing/toilet facility in the town centre.
The business centre: The creation of the business centre responds to the needs identified by small and medium enterprises* that said there was a need for suitably sized office premises. The proposed business centre will offer options ranging from two desk offices to 7-9 desk offices, with a collaboration space to bring the fledgling businesses together.
It will occupy the three floors above the library and café and offer modern well-serviced flexible business accommodation with car parking. The first floor will house the Reception area and offices, the second floor will feature a roof terrace to host events and act as a meeting space while the third floor will accommodate offices and a plant area
These floors will comprise around 68 highly flexible offices aimed at small start up companies. They will range from two desk set ups to offices for 7-9 people alongside communal break out spaces encouraging networking and collaboration among the businesses.
Designed to BREEAM Good standard the next design stage will explore where photovoltaic panels can be used, an allowance for electric vehicle charging points, showers, cycle stores.
Jobs: An expected 200 jobs will be created, above library staff, in the business centre and café with 120 businesses supported through the provision of affordable and suitable office accommodation and other business support.
Financial sustainability: Revenue will be generated from rent at the business centre and the café ca £490,000 per annum once target occupancy is achieved.
Impact on local economy: The greater number of visitors through new business owners and their staff, along with library and café customers, will go a long way towards creating a more vibrant economy in the town centre beyond normal office hours, stimulating both the daytime retail market and the night-time economy for the leisure outlets.
This will then create a more attractive offer for developers. The site of the existing library will be made available for private sector development while increasing investment in the area will raise the land value which is currently low.
What is Transforming Nuneaton addressing?
Nuneaton currently has the lowest rate of employment in the county (0.6 jobs per person compared to 1.16 in Warwick District) and has the lowest gross value added per head (£15,830 compared to £33,660 in Warwick District).
The borough ranks as the 111th (out of 326) most deprived Local authority Districts nationally. Six Super Output Areas within the borough are in the top 10% most deprived nationally, including Abbey ward which covers the town centre.
The town centre relies heavily on retail (currently 58% of all units) so it needs to diversify its offer. The level of office and residential accommodation is a major factor in the vitality of the town centre.
Existing retailers need to see the local economy stimulated. Figures from the Ropewalk Shopping Centre show, a decline of 29% in footfall in the last decade (since 2008/09).
The vitality of the local town centre is affected by low levels of office and residential accommodation, limiting investment from new businesses looking to locate to the centre. The Coventry and Warwickshire Sub Regional Employment Market Signals Study 2019 points out that, in order to achieve the increase in footfall that will stimulate the local economy, businesses need to be offered a range of suitable and flexible accommodation, stating:
“Businesses, especially new start businesses with high growth aspirations, are struggling to find premises with suitably flexible leases, which will allow them to expand or move on within a few years if they achieve their rapid growth aspirations. The provision of small-scale, flexible office accommodation within urban areas across the sub-region should be a priority going forward.”
*Coventry and Warwickshire Sub Regional Employment Market Signals Study 2019