This page includes a range of frequently asked questions about the investment in St Neots.
Who are the project funders?
The investment in St Neots Town Council will be funded as follows:
£5.1 million from Huntingdonshire District Council
£3.8 million from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Future High Streets Fund
£3.1 million from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority
£3.5 million from National Highways.
How were the projects chosen?
In March 2019 the District Council submitted an Expression of Interest to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities for funding from the Future High Streets Fund. After being successful at the expression of interest stage we were awarded a small grant to develop a full business case.
During the development of the business case, a large number of projects were considered, evaluated and refined down to a smaller number of proposals that met certain criteria, which were that the projects:
support the strategic direction of the town as set out in previous work such as the St Neots Masterplan for Growth - and the St Neots Neighbourhood Plan
meet the funding priorities and criteria of the Future High Streets Fund
achieve value for money - cost relative to benefits and
can be delivered within the project timeframe with acceptable levels of risk.
Proposals were refined through engagement with stakeholders, urban design studies and cost estimates. Alongside this, an options appraisal was undertaken that considered both strategic fit and deliverability.
What is the timeframe for St Neots investment projects?
The government requires that the Future High Streets Fund money be spent by March 2024, however, work paid for by the other funders could continue after this period.
We are currently in a period where we need to design, investigate, plan, procure and phasing of projects and this will take time to ensure the right solutions and value for money.
It is likely that delivery of one or two of projects will start in Autumn 2023.
How can I find out what is happening?
We will be sharing regular updates with stakeholders, on our website, via social media and to residents who have signed up to receive our newsletter.
Town Centre Improvements FAQs
What are you doing in the Market Square?
The improvements to the Market Square will look to create an attractive and versatile public realm space by introducing new landscaping and improved facilities for the market and other events in the Market Square.
Introducing seating areas to encourage more people to come and stay for longer, and improving the pedestrian and cycling experience throughout the town centre. Disabled parking spaces will be provided on the southern side of the square.
Works will begin on-site in late October 2023. The project should be complete by January 2025.
How much will it cost?
The final cost for this element of the wider St Neots improvements will be known when the procurement process concludes in September 2023 and the successful bidder for the main works contract is selected.
How has the project been funded?
The scheme is being co-funded by external bodies using funding allocated for the purpose of High Street regeneration.
This external funding is provided specifically for the delivery of this project and cannot be used for any other council business or projects.
Financial contribution by HDC towards the project comes from the Community Infrastructure Levy funds held by the district council. This is money collected from private developers and is specifically for use on public infrastructure and community projects such as this.
The project is not being delivered at the expense of any other council activity and we continue to provide significant support to residents as normal, especially those in crisis or at risk of falling into crisis.
You've been talking about this for years and nothing has happened, why is this any different?
This project has had a long gestation period as the initial vision for St Neots evolved through to detailed designs.
Funding has been secured and ring-fenced for the scheme
Detailed construction designs have been completed and resources put in place to deliver the project
Procurement has started to select a main contractor to deliver the construction work
This selection process will conclude in September 2023 and works will begin on-site in late October 2023
The project should be complete by January 2025.
People won't come to the town centre if they can't park - why are you getting rid of the parking on Market Square?
Disabled spaces on the Market Square will be provided on the south side of the square.
St Neots is extremely well-served for car parking, with a number of car parks within a short walk of Market Square.
Feedback from public engagement has demonstrated that, on balance, residents support the change of use for the Market Square and would prefer to see the square opened up as a public realm space permanently, instead of being used for parking.
What's the point of spending money on Market Square if the Old Falcon Inn remains derelict?
We fully recognise the importance of the Old Falcon Inn to the people of St Neots and the significant opportunity that this building represents for the town.
The building is in private ownership and not owned by HDC.
We have created a separate project to establish how best we can support the current owner in bringing this historic building back into meaningful use.
Why are you replacing the trees on Market Square?
A tree assessment report undertaken by Cambridgeshire County Council identified that these trees were planted incorrectly. They present a hazard due to root growth causing the pavement to buckle and break. Their planting pits were also much too small for trees with large canopies. Without the spread of a wide, healthy route system, each year they are more likely to lean and eventually fall.
Cambridgeshire County Council Highways were planning to remove these trees already as a result. This removal was put on hold due to the Market Square improvement project being in the pipeline.
As a result of this scheme, the trees that are being removed will be replaced with a greater number and variety of semi-mature trees on both the north and south sides of the square.
We have looked at options to replant the trees elsewhere. However, after discussions with our arboriculture team, it became clear that this wasn't viable. Due to the incorrect way the trees were planted originally, the root structures have not developed correctly and as a result, any attempt to replant them would likely fail.
What will you do with the trees once they have been cut down?
We are currently exploring different options but hope to be able to turn them into a woodpile that encourages wildlife at Riverside Park in St Neots.
Will there be any changes to the weekly markets?
Improvements to the Market Square will be completed in sections to allow the Thursday charter market, Saturday farm and craft market and other events to continue throughout the construction period. We are working to minimise disruption to traders, event organisers and the public.
The current operator of the weekly Thursday charter market, Wendy Fair Markets, has decided to stop operating this market in St Neots. We will take over this market from 3 August 2023 and, as above, the market will not move from the Market Square during the town centre improvements.
We're hearing a lot about Market Square, what else are you doing?
Whilst Market Square is where the most obvious changes will be seen, there are also works taking place along the High Street.
There will be highway, footway and junction improvements to benefit all road users, but specifically for pedestrians and cyclists.
A new signalised crossing will be constructed at the Huntingdon Street junction with complementary works on the High Street, outside the former Beales store, to widen the footpath.
Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) will be added to all arms of each junction along the High Street, a measure specifically requested by local walking and cycling groups.
The programme also has a separate project to improve the Priory Centre.
Activity has been taking place to identify potential future projects in St Ives, Huntingdon and Ramsey as well, as part of a visioning exercise, so that we are best able to take advantage of future opportunities for funding as they arise.
Who is responsible for the provision of blue badge parking?
The High Street and Market Square are designated public highways. Blue badge space provision and design in the public highway is the responsibility of Cambridgeshire County Council. HDC is responsible for blue badge spaces in HDC-run car parks.
How many blue badge spaces are in the new design?
There are officially 12 marked blue badge spaces at present on the Market Square, 8 of which are being relocated to the south side of the square along Market Place. These will be permanent spaces and marked as such.
The three spaces along the High Street outside the Post Office are being retained and slightly widened to make them more useable, plus all existing loading bays, and the taxi rank on Market Place are also being retained.
The Market Square previously only had 4 blue badge spaces, until the short-stay parking was suspended during COVID-19.
How many blue badge spaces are within a short distance of the High Street?
Marked blue badge spaces in HDC off-street car parks:
Priory Lane West - 2 spaces
Priory Centre - 2 spaces
Waitrose Car Park - 3 spaces
Tebbutts Road - 8 spaces
Riverside Car Park - 5 spaces
Tan Yard - 4 spaces
Will St Neots have a net reduction in blue badge spaces?
The current parking arrangement in the Market Square is unclear and lends itself to misuse and abuse, to the detriment of blue badge holders. By removing all spaces from the square and relocating as many of the blue badge spaces as possible with clear marking and signage, this will reduce the likelihood of misuse, and ensure the spaces are more available for blue badge holders to use.
Blue badge holders can use these other areas to park, such as on double yellow lines (so long as they don't cause an obstruction). Blue badge holders can currently park free of charge in any designated parking bay in an HDC pay and display car park when displaying a valid badge and time clock in accordance with signed restrictions. There are several HDC car parks in very close proximity to the town centre.
We recognise the importance of providing ample blue badge parking and, as such, we are evaluating where we can increase the number of marked blue badge spaces in HDC car parks close to the town centre. Data collection and occupancy analysis is due to commence imminently which will allow us to assess the issue and inform decision-making on where to increase blue badge parking provision.
The scheme will make St Neots town centre more accessible, rectifying a significant number of areas where footpaths and crossings are in poor condition and present a hazard to all pedestrians, but especially those of reduced mobility. This will make transiting from car parks around the town centre to the High Street and Market Square itself much easier than it is at present.
Priory Centre and Quarter FAQs
What are the proposals for the Priory Centre?
We are at the early stage of scoping a potential refurbishment of the Centre.
Who owns the Priory Centre?
The Priory Centre is owned by St Neots Town Council, it is not owned by HDC.
What is proposed for the Centre?
We are currently looking at very high-level options for the Centre. These include making the best use of its location on the riverside.
Is there any funding for the Priory Centre?
Yes, we received FHSF for the Centre and this is being supported with Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding.
What are the proposals for the Quarter?
We, as part of our place planning role, are looking into Master Plans across market towns. Exploration of proposals for the Priory Quarter are in the early feasibility stage.
Is there any funding to deliver works in the Quarter?
Yes, for feasibility only. There is no funding to support any works in the Quarter past feasibility.
'What are the anticipated benefits of the transport projects?
The transport projects form part of a wider enhancement of the town centre as well as providing physical regeneration that will lift commercial, retail, and civic pride in the town centre. They will also look to address traffic pollution, encourage more active travel and ease traffic congestion.
How do we know that this is value for money?
We are working closely with Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) who have specialist highways knowledge. This relationship between the two councils allows us to gain full and latest current costings across a number of projects in real time to provide direct comparisons.
Initial concept was tested by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) as part of the FHSF Appraisal, as carried out by Mott MacDonald (Consultants) in the Business Case submission. DLUHC indicators are used to ensure that we are delivering to targets.
How are you managing the cost and delivery risk?
We are monitoring costs in real time and updating the commercial case to reflect costs and funding sources/criteria. Project management is being carried out at CCC and the District Council. This is supported by project management governance procedures at both council levels.
What is the budget for the transport projects?
The current budget for this project is £8.5 million. In February 2022 estimates for the initial concepts were placed at £8.5 million. However, in June 2022 the estimated cost was judged to be around £9.5 million (with inflation risk and optimism bias built in), due to inflation, increased material costs and outside factors such as those impacted by the war in Ukraine.
Consideration is now being given to reviewing the estimates and seeking further uplift in budget.
Would there be any benefits in delaying projects until economic / funding challenges settle and we can have more balanced costs?
Delays are more likely to result in cumulative cost increases due to inflation, delay costs (estimated at £80,000 per month - CCC, July 2022).
Additionally, funders expect projects to be delivered in 2024.
What is the point of all this consultation if you have already decided?
In May 2022 we carried out a consultation session in St Neots with local stakeholders and invited feedback from residents online which looked at the proposed schemes in St Neots.
The feedback by residents and businesses was captured and our proposals were amended in accordance with the public feedback.
One of the requests included providing regular updates on the projects on this website.
What are you going to do?
We are developing up our proposals based on public and member engagement, and we will regularly provide feedback on our progress.
When will it all start / finish?
The target for the next phase of the transport projects in St Neots include detailed design to start in late 2022, procurement of contractors early 2023 and commencement of works in spring 2023. The target date for completion is summer 2024.
Will this mean that nothing else happens in St Neots?
There is a wider masterplan for St Neots which is currently being finalised. The masterplans will offer wider opportunity for future public and private investment into St Neots.
We are currently exploring other projects in the market town outside of the Future High Streets Fund projects, including the enhancement of pathways and footways in Riverside Park, as part of wider investment into our open spaces.
Future High Streets Funding Background FAQs
Why was St Neots selected for application to the Future High Street Fund?
The government invited bids for Future High Street Funding from unitary authorities, metropolitan districts, London boroughs and, where there is a two-tier system, from district councils, in England. The funding guidance stipulated that the government would only accept bids covering town centre areas facing significant challenges.
Huntingdonshire District Council could have submitted an application for any of its market towns, but selected St Neots as it was felt that it was the town which needed the investment and would benefit most from the fund.
Other factors taken into consideration included St Neots' growing population, the town's connectivity and challenges facing the town centre including the declining footfall and the challenge of competing with online shopping.
How is Huntingdonshire District Council involved in the Future High Street Fund?
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities' Future High Street Fund Call for Projects invited "bids from unitary authorities, metropolitan districts, London boroughs and, where there is a two-tier system, from district councils, in England".
Having been successful in our application for funding, we will now act as the accountable body - this means that we are responsible for the legal and financial management of the grant.
We are also responsible for ensuring the projects are delivered to time and budget, achieve value for money and meet the requirements of the Future High Street Fund grant.
Huntingdonshire District Council, as the accountable body, holds the responsibility, but to develop and deliver the projects we will collaborate with a range of stakeholders and partners, including St Neots Town Council, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and statutory organisations such as the Environment Agency and Historic England.
What is the Future High Street Fund?
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities' Future High Streets Fund is a £675 million fund to help local areas respond to and adapt to the challenges and changes facing their High Streets.
The fund serves two purposes, "it will support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres, including funding a new High Streets Taskforce to provide expertise and hands-on support to local areas.
It will also then co-fund with local areas projects including:
investment in physical infrastructure, including improving public and other transport access, improving flow and circulation within a town/city centre, congestion-relieving infrastructure, other investment in physical infrastructure needed to support new housing and workspace development and existing local communities, and the regeneration of heritage high streets; and
investment in land assembly, including to support the densification of residential and workspace around high streets in place of under-used retail units."
You can find out more on the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities' website and the full prospectus for the fund is also available online.
Why should I take part in community engagement? Haven’t the decisions already been made?
Engaging with the community and stakeholders is an important part of the investment in St Neots and we will be talking to people throughout the length of the project.
Whilst decisions have been made about the projects that funding will be used for, we still need to hear from local people about their aspirations for the town and what outcomes they would like to see each of the projects deliver.
Community engagement will help shape and inform decisions around the projects alongside best practice, learning from other markets towns and the strategy for the future of St Neots.