Nine historic streets in Yorkshire given vital regeneration funding

Nine streets in Yorkshire struggling with the blight of empty shops have been given a share of regeneration funding from Historic England.

Northallerton High Street on market day
Northallerton High Street on market day

A £13million government pot has been divided between them to help them recover from declining footfall and the impact of lockdown while giving them a new lease of life.

The nine chosen are among 68 high streets across the country that will benefit from the High Streets Heritage Action Zone programme. The money is expected to regenerate derelict and disused buildings which have the potential to be converted into homes, shops, community spaces and offices.

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Almost half of the country's retail properties were built before 1919 and many of these buildings have historic value. The loss of business occupants and tenants places them at risk of falling into disrepair.

The funding package will benefit: Sowerby Bridge, Skipton, Northallerton, Leeds (New Briggate), Huddersfield (St George's Square), Hull (Whitefriargate), Wakefield (Upper Westgate), Selby and Barnsley (Eldon Street)

These thoroughfares are home to listed buildings and have declining vacancy rates.

Skipton has been selected because it has been adversely affected by the closure of department store Rackhams and the relocation of Craven College, while Northallerton has been identified as suffering from degeneration caused by the population drain of younger residents who leave to seek job opportunities elsewhere. Hull's Whitefriargate contains 33 listed buildings, but since the closure of several large retailers, has been relegated to the status of a link road between the city centre and the well-preserved Old Town rather than a destination in its own right.

Hambleton Council have opted to use their share of the grant to restore deteriorating shop frontages in Northallerton, incentivise landlords to improve their properties and bring historic passageways back into use. They will also explore the possibility of converting underused upper floors into affordable flats for young people.

Council leader Coun Mark Robson said: “This grant gives us a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and invest in Northallerton High Street, restoring landmark buildings, conserving historic thoroughfares, updating shopfronts and breathing life into the upper floors of our buildings."

“We have many handsome Georgian buildings, but the once-vibrant appearance of the town is beginning to deteriorate. Vacant shops are becoming an increasingly familiar sight and the thoroughfares and historic passageways leading off the High Street are looking rundown.

“Despite its rich heritage, most visitors are unaware of the town’s historic importance and opportunities to capitalise on this are being lost.”

The grant will also be match funded by donations from Northallerton Business Improvement District and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

“There is much to attract visitors to Northallerton, but we all recognise we need to continue to invest in our heritage and look at new ways to use and adapt the town centre to ensure it remains vibrant and thriving,” added Coun Robson.

Historic England's regional director for Yorkshire, Charles Smith, said: "Every high street in England has a distinctive history that can be harnessed to help it achieve a prosperous future.

"Investing in heritage delivers good results for people – it means looking after and celebrating the places at the heart of our communities, and the buildings and public spaces which define their character. This investment for our Historic High Streets Action Zone scheme in Yorkshire will unlock the potential of these precious high streets in the region and help them thrive again."

The nine chosen areas

Huddersfield will receive £2million, which will be concentrated on the St George's Square area. The square is dominated by impressive Victorian facades, with the Grade II-listed George Hotel, the birthplace of rugby league, and Huddersfield Station's ornate frontage nearby.

However, many of these 19th-century buildings are empty, underused or falling into decay. Kirklees Council will lead the project to improve the occupancy rates in this part of the town centre.

Sowerby Bridge has been granted just under £2million to restore its faltering town centre's daytime economy. Although the town has a thriving nightlife, it struggles to attract football during trading hours. Yet it boasts attractive buildings which reflect its proud heritage as a centre of engineering and textile manfacture.

Calderdale Council will spend the money on refurbishing these buildings, revitalising the market as a multi-purpose public space, and improving pedestrian areas through traffic management schemes.

Eldon Street in Barnsley is one of the town's gateways and is home to three of its best historic assets - the Yorkshire Penny Bank, Queens Hotel and Civic Theatre, all of which are listed. Yet these gems are surrounded by vacant shop units and the street itself has deteriorated considerably.

The street has been described as the 'missing link' in the current large-scale regeneration of Barnsley, which includes the Glass Works retail scheme and improvements to the markets. Barnsley Council will use their grant to improve the condition of buildings on Eldon Street.

In Wakefield, almost £2million has been given to the city council to spend on Upper Westgate, the location of the Theatre Royal and Unity Hall. Over a third of the houses and shops are unoccupied, and several attractive Victorian and Georgian buildings are neglected.

Wakefield Council will attempt to create a mix of residential, commercial and cultural uses on the street to change the perception of the area.

In Hull, Whitefriargate has a claim to being one of the most historically significant streets - it's where King Charles I was refused entry to the city in 1642, precipitating the Civil War. There are 33 listed buildings, but it has become underused and underappreciated after several large stores shut. It has now become more of a link to the popular Old Town.

Hull Council want to bring more food and drink outlets to the street, convert upper floors into flats and alter poorly designed shop fronts.

In Leeds, £1.3million has been allocated to New Briggate. Although the city's retail scene is vibrant, the upper end of Briggate, near the Grand Theatre and Grand Arcade, has become relatively neglected and suffers from anti-social behaviour as well as high vacancy rates. The churchyard at St John's is underused.

Leeds City Council aim to transform the Grand Quarter by repairing old buildings, increasing activity in the churchyard and improving pedestrian areas in the hope of attracting cafes, restaurants and bars.

Skipton has received £1.2million to help the market town recover from the loss of Rackhams, the tax offices and Craven College. The lack of shoppers and workers has seen footfall drop and some smaller shops have closed as a result.

The high street itself remains vibrant, but surrounding areas are comparatively neglected, and so the grant will attempt to reconnect the high street with these other thoroughfares, as well as attracting younger people to the town through the arts scene, festivals, youth markets and more public space.

Selby has been given £500,000 to fund projects to enhance the historic environment and encourage more people to visit the town centre and Selby Abbey.

Northallerton has received £386,480 to revitalise its Georgian heart. Vacant shops are increasing in number and there are rundown passageways leading from the main high street. Younger people are moving away from the market town in search of job opportunities and affordable housing.

Hambleton Council will allow landlords to apply for some of the funding to restore historic shop fronts, and passageways will also be refurbished. A study will be undertaken into the feasibility of converting underused upper floors into affordable flats for young people. A new app about the town's history aimed at visitors will also be created.