BOSCOMBE is set to profit from a new regeneration project that will see its high street transformed thanks to a £22m grant from the government.

However, a recent study of the Boscombe and Pokesdown area showed that some 40 commercial units along Christchurch Road are currently boarded up or closed down, ‘to let’ signs a common sight along the arterial road.

The size of the units range dramatically from the former JK Hair Academy site at 807 Christchurch Road, at 128 sq.ft, to the former Motabitz site at 709, measuring up to 3,808 sq ft.

Councillors have said that a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in online shopping has led to the high streets demise.

We spoke to elected members, businesses and BCP Council to see why that particular streetch is so badly affected and whether the current rejuvenation plans could be a catalyst for Boscombe.

Community strength

Ward Councillor for Boscombe East and Pokesdown George Farquhar said: “When asked previously for one word to sum up Boscombe I replied with community, which I feel is strong despite the transient turnover the area has developed due to its deprivation.

“There are already many boutique and niche small businesses in the area, I do not think any incentives are necessary to encourage more.”

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr George FarquharCllr George Farquhar

He added: “The plans are ambitious and the down scaling of the retail floor space, but expanding the range and varieties of retail experience, is the correct direction to go.

“I am immensely pleased that the Towns Fund bid was so successful, and I welcome and recognise the more radical and local consultant approach that has managed to catch the eye of central government to land it."

'It's been an awful 12 months'

Chameleon Bride owner, Anneliese Ward, said the sight of empty shops in the area was not good but added that the regeneration project is welcome.

She said: "It’s not nice seeing all the boarded-up shops as you’re driving past, so it would be nice to see Boscombe become an up-and-coming area through the grant especially as it’s between two nice places, Bournemouth and Southbourne. It would be great if the fund can bring Boscombe up to standard.

Bournemouth Echo: Chameleon Bride20in BoscombeChameleon Bride20in Boscombe

"It has been an awful 12 months for business owners and any extra support would be appreciated. Any improvements that may bring more people to the area and into my business is welcome as this has been the toughest 12 months of my entire business."

Shark Tail Sushi waitress Brigita Kviatkovska said: "The project would be amazing, of course. The roads need some improvement and I'm sure all the locals will be very happy with the project. In general, the project will help."

How will the money Government grant be used?

Peter Ruscoe, of Bournemouth Coastal BID, said: "The fund will help boost the enterprise and skills infrastructure in Boscombe, improve transport links and digital connectivity as well as promoting the arts, culture and heritage. Bournemouth Echo: Peter RuscoePeter Ruscoe

"The fund will also be used to repurpose some of the vacant units along Christchurch Road, attracting new businesses to the area.

"High streets have suffered dramatically over recent years, and this has been exacerbated over the last 12 months with lockdowns.

"The targeted spending of this money will aim to boost Boscombe which already has much going for it, such as national retailers, a bustling market, bars, restaurants and pubs as well as culture and art.

"The investment will aim to help create jobs and attract locals as well as tourists. We also hope that this funding will lead to further investment."

Cllr Farquhar added that, while the funding is greatly received, it is important that the money is directed to the right sectors.

“The £22million fund is very welcome and I think it will be an essential job of the Towns Fund boards and committees to seek out and demand community involvement, so all are given the opportunity to contribute and invest to the end goal throughout the project.

“Since it is the community that will be living, working, raising families and relaxing in the end result.

“Likewise, these groups on the boards are needed to insure not this lump sum investment in their future is not dwindled, frittered or diverted away. Every pound needs to bring 'bang for the buck' to achieving the end goal.”

What else will be improved?

It is hoped that the installation of a new mast and 5G antennas in Pokesdown will mean existing businesses in the high street, as well as potential additions, will benefit from faster internet speeds and improved connectivity.

BCP Council said the issues on Christchurch Road are similar to this being faced by high streets across the UK, but the £21.7m fund would go a long way to boosting the area’s retail presence.

Cllr Nigel Brooks, lead member for BCP retail strategy, said: “Shop vacancy rates is a problem facing high streets across the country and one which has been made worse by the pandemic, but we have long recognised the specific challenges facing Boscombe town centre and have been working closely with the community and local businesses on ideas and projects that can help regenerate and revitalise the area.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Nigel BrooksCllr Nigel Brooks

“Our success in securing almost £22 million of ‘Town Deal’ funding will go a long way towards making the high street a more appealing proposition for businesses: creating a new urban neighbourhood that offers a vibrant and attractive environment where people want to be.

“In addition, the £1 million of Towns Fund Accelerator Funding we secured last year means that the town centre will soon benefit from enhanced digital connectivity plus the implementation of various improvement works, including a deep clean, murals, smart-bins and plantings.”

Plans for the future

The council has hinted at a new scheme for Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch to help fill empty commercial units across the conurbation and boost high streets such as Christchurch Road.

“Going forward, we are in the process of developing a conurbation-wide project that will focus on encouraging and supporting businesses to fill empty retail units as part of our High Streets Strategy," said Cllr Brooks.

He added: “This exciting initiative will help businesses to take on empty space in a supported way, and bring vibrancy back to our high streets and district centres.

“We want Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole city region to be world-class: one of the best coastal places in the world in which to live, work, invest and play.”