Exclusive: Corby's town centre regeneration bid revealed

New sixth form college forms centrepiece of Corby’s multi-million Town Deal bid

By Sarah Ward

A new sixth form college is part of a bid that could net £25m of investment to boost Corby’s town centre.

Corby, along with Northampton, is among 101 UK towns that could receive a huge cash grant from the Government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund pot to help revitalise their central shopping areas.

And now - just days before the bid is due to be approved and submitted - NN Journal can reveal some key elements of the plan.

A new sixth form college run by The Bedford College Group - which has the Tresham Campus on nearby Oakley Road, is in the running and could cost up to £6m. The plan would be to site it within Chisholm House, which belongs to town centre owners Europa Capital Partners.

Also possible are a new key gateway point at Market Walk East - current site of a large car park- which may include an art gallery or digital/community hub as well as a new intelligent sensor network to collect real time information on how the town centre operates. A new cycle network connecting the railway station on the edge of Corby Old Village and the town centre is also a likely inclusion to the bid.

Speaking exclusively to NN Journal, a spokesperson for the college group said: “As part of the Towns Fund Bid application, The Bedford College Group has been working with Sovereign Centros (on behalf of the owners of Corby Town Centre) to look at a proposal of using the upper two floors of Chisholm House in the town centre for this new Post-16 educational facility. 

"This vision is an ambitious one – to equip students with the very best skills and education, to enable more young people to achieve their ambitions through to university and employment. 

“If any bid is successful, and plans are approved, Chisholm House will be re-purposed.  The college centre will occupy the upper two floors of this property, the majority of which has been vacant and in bare shell condition for many years.  It will be renovated to, ideally, a carbon-negative standard using the very latest innovative technologies and will deliver a modern, fit for purpose building in the heart of the town centre.  

"The feedback from consultation and market research shows that there is considerable demand for additional Post-16 provision.  Corby is growing rapidly and is predicted to see one of the highest levels of population growth in England in the next decade, according to the Office for National Statistics.

“Thus, over the next five to ten years, the centre would grow to accommodate an additional 600 students drawn from across North Northamptonshire.”

How the proposals came about

Like many things, the Covid-19 pandemic put a spanner in the early work of the Corby Town Deal Board. 

After it was announced in September 2019 that Corby had made the Town Deal shortlist, the borough council set up a board made up of a wide range of interested parties from local business representatives to the area’s residents’ association as well as Tresham college staff and students and the town’s MP Tom Pursglove.

The board first met in January last year and Lorna Dodge, owner of marketing company S.C. Agency and director of business consortium Love Corby, was voted in as chair. The first meeting introduced Lambert Smith Hampton as the company signed up to carry out the consultancy work and there was a brief workshop session where board members outlined what they thought were the key challenges facing the town centre.

But when the first lockdown happened, March and then May’s board meetings were cancelled and so the board did not meet again until July.

At the July meeting Lambert Smith Hampton gave a presentation covering the research that had been carried out and the emerging themes. At this stage concerns were raised by council leader Tom Beattie who thought it was dated and did not reflect the regeneration of previous years. The council’s then chief executive Norman Stronach - who has since retired - also expressed disappointment saying the presentation was not representative of the advances Corby had made over the past 15 years. 

It was also reported to the board that online responses to the My Town campaign - which the government was running online to give locals a say in the Town Deal - had highlighted three main areas that were receiving support. These were road and cycle improvements, sport and leisure facilities and mental health improvements, plus calls for a new hospital. However some of these suggestions, the board said, were outside of the Town Deal criteria.

Covid served up further disappointment when the face-to-face market research that was due to take place could not happen, and instead was moved to the phones. Workshops with Tresham students also had to be cancelled as did plans to get feedback from school children.

Some good news was that Corby was given £750,000 by the government as part of the Accelerated Fund which aims to kick start regeneration projects. Half of this will be spent on pedestrianising part of George Street and money will go towards cycle infrastructure improvements to link the town centre parks as well as some outdoor gym equipment for Tresham College.

By the October meeting, feedback from a board visioning workshop had marked out urban regeneration, skills and enterprise infrastructure and connectivity as the priorities. This was when the first mention of a college in the town centre is documented in the board minutes. The board was told that feedback from the public to the My Town campaign had leisure and entertainment as the top priority, followed by healthcare, highways infrastructure and youth provision.

At November’s meeting the potential projects that are expected to make up the final bid were first outlined. The Board met again in December but the minutes are not yet public.

As to whether the proposals are what Corby’s residents most want, is unclear. Unlike Northampton, Corby has not put a fully fleshed out list of projects into the public domain for consultation or feedback. The website, which was only launched in November and was created by chair of the board Lorna Dodge’s own company, was supposed to be ‘open and transparent and include all project information’ and ‘form a major part of the engagement plan’. However it does not as yet include details of any projects and only asks residents to email feedback on the emerging vision for the town, which reads:

Over the period to 2030, Corby will be recognised in providing opportunities for its growing population through ambitious housing growth and the provision of diverse modern education, health and cultural facilities. Emphasis will be placed on digital skills, developing smart and innovative technologies, the green economy and future creative and diversified industries. It will place Corby town centre at its heart to maximise opportunities through innovative regeneration of space. The town centre will be a focal point for surrounding residential communities and will be accessible, visible and signposted. Combined, this will provide Corby and the Borough with an economically confident base to address future challenges.

There is a website survey which asks a number of questions about shopping habits, and asks respondents whether they think things such as youth or education facilities would significantly improve the town centre economically.

One board member, who asked not to be named, is unsure whether Corby’s bid will be successful. ‘I don’t think we’ll get it’ they said. “It doesn’t feel good enough”. They were also critical of how decisions were made and said many matters were not voted on.

“It just feels that we are shoe horning things in without thinking about what we need,” they said. “I do however support the sixth form college proposal as long as it helps bring in the skills that we are missing in the town”.

In the coming days the board will approve the final Town Improvement Plan and it will be submitted to the government before the end of the month.

What is the overall vision for Corby’s town centre?

Back in the 2000s most Corby residents could have outlined the then vision for the town centre. Government funded regeneration company Catalyst Corby, led by Bob Lane, was spearheading a high profile town wide project to rejuvenate the borough. In 2006 Catalyst Corby teamed up with the Corby Borough Council to commission an ambitious masterplan for the town centre, which involved remodelling large parts of the 1950s layout and creating new leisure and eating quarters - bringing the town’s shopping infrastructure into the 21st century.

The makeover began to take shape when then town centre owners Land Securities built the Willow Place shopping precinct in 2007. By 2010 the first phase of the masterplan was complete with the opening of the £20m international swimming pool in 2009 and the £47.9m Corby Cube civic building, theatre and library the next year.

But then the economic downturn hit and Land Securities abandoned plans for phase two of Willow Place ‘Evolution’ which would have redeveloped the former bus station, Crown House and the multi-storey car park.

The local authority also massively overspent on the Corby Cube - costs rose from £35m to almost £48m -  and in 2012 then chief executive Chris Mallender- who had been the driving force behind much of the regeneration plans - had his contract with the council terminated after a number of projects came under the spotlight due to corporate and financial governance issues.

This 2006 master plan is still the definitive vision today, and remains on the council’s website, but whether it is achievable or being actively pursued today is debatable.

Plans for a Northern quarter have not materialised and the ambitious Corby Walk scheme to connect the railway station and the town’s centre by way of a thoroughfare through Stuart Road has been shelved.

Speaking to NN Journal the Labour-run authority’s deputy leader Cllr Jean Addison says after the Parkland Gateway regeneration of 2010 there was a quieter spell.

“There was a period of consolidation, where we thought ‘we have done that bit - let’s look at our next vision.’

“We still have the vision but the current situation with the unitary reorganisation and with Covid has unfortunately pushed plans onto the back burner.”

There are piecemeal regeneration projects going on.

After several years of talk it now looks like plans by Mulberry Property to build a hotel and housing scheme on the former Tresham site in George Street, are moving forward. The derelict building which was the former site of the Co-op supermarket in Alexandra Road could also be turned into a four storey flat block.

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