BUSINESS leaders hope a planned multi-million pound investment can “turn Poole around", but they say the basic planning needs to be done right.

Last week the Echo reported on how sections of Poole High Street were said to be fast resembling a "ghost town".

Value store This Is It is just the latest Poole town centre retailer to announce its closure.

There are currently 13 unoccupied shops in Kingland Crescent, a dozen empty units in Poole High Street, and the Dolphin Shopping Centre has just confirmed Thorntons chocolate shop is to shut – bringing the number of empty units there to 13.

But while Poole BID, the organisation established to represent town centre businesses, says it is concerned the High Street has been neglected, Poole BID manager Ailsa Wilson told the Echo: “We are working with BCP Council to ensure that the latest masterplan answers not only the needs of the community at large in Poole, but also the needs of the business community.

“We need it to turn Poole around to the point we are a 21st Century facing town.”

One of the last actions taken by Borough of Poole chiefs before the new BCP Council came into existence was to back proposals for the £132 million ‘Heart of Poole’ scheme.

Poole council wanted to redevelop the northern end of the town centre and create 400 new homes, offices, a hotel, a new leisure centre, a new bus station and new public open space. In March, last year, days before the old borough council was consigned to the history books, the then cabinet – under the leadership of Cllr Janet Walton – signalled the start of the programme’s procurement stage.

Since then, the Heart of Poole project has morphed into a wider initiative, also taking in regeneration of the High Street, Poole Quay and the area surrounding the Twin Sails Bridge.

In December, BCP Council nodded through plans to "kickstart the sustainable regeneration of Poole town centre” by agreeing to develop a masterplan for the area.

Mrs Wilson said: “With regards to the regeneration masterplan I think it is fantastic. From a business perspective we are keeping up the pressure, keeping up the momentum. We have to be realistic about the fact that the amalgamation into BCP Council had a knock-on effect to that momentum. But I feel it is better to get it right, than to have speed as the objective.

“If we have to take a couple of steps back to ensure we get things right, I am fine with that. The journey from pressing the go button to it actually happening will be a lot quicker if we ensure we invest in that planning stage.

“I think Poole already suffers from an historic lack of future planning; it has suffered from very bad planning.

“It has suffered from very piecemeal development, so to have a masterplan is a lot better.”

BCP Council also agreed to “repurpose” up to £1 million from the remaining Heart of Poole budget to progress the new regeneration programme.

Exactly what the masterplan will contain is undetermined, although Cllr Howell has insisted Poole railway station and bus and train connections need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, according to council officers, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has “looked favourably” on initial moves to secure money from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF). Last summer BCP Council gained the maximum £150,000 available to develop a business case.

Work to fully develop this business case was due to start in December 2019.

While the maximum funding available through the FHSF is £25 million to any one authority, most awards will be around £5m to £10m.

A wider regeneration programme funding strategy is also in development at BCP Council.

Progress on this funding strategy and the overall masterplan will be presented at a future cabinet meeting.

Speaking in December, Cllr Howell said: “Cllr Mark Howell, cabinet member of regeneration and culture, said: “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver a revitalised and sustainable town centre.

“We want Poole town centre to be a place where people can live and work in a healthy and vibrant environment, and where businesses can thrive sustainably.”