Town centre regeneration

Frequently asked questions

Making Swindon town centre a place people choose to visit, live and work

Strengthening the town centre offer – to attract people to visit, live and work - will require contributions from across the private sector (landowners, developers, investors), public sector (national and local government) and the voluntary sector.

Below we answer some commonly asked resident questions about the town centre and explain our role in working alongside national and local partners.

While occupancy rates for retail units remain generally strong across the town centre, primary streets such as Regent Street and Canal Walk do have higher numbers of empty shops due to the challenges being faced by national retailers as a result of changing shopping habits.

However, streets such as Faringdon Road and Havelock Street are flourishing as the demand from niche and independent retailers remains strong. 

Across the country, the future of town centres and high streets has long been a matter of concern. This briefing paper on town centre regeneration produced by the House of Commons Library (May 2021) sets out the common issues and challenges facing town centres. It mentions that:

Trends in retail – and in particular changes in people’s shopping habits, with a shift towards out of town shopping and more recently to online shopping – have prompted concerns about the viability of town centres.

The paper summarises what support and funding the Government has made available for town centres and high streets, which will benefit towns like Swindon.

This all means the town centre must diversify away from its traditional reliance on shops. We’re likely to see more buildings converted into new homes and venues where people can socialise and enjoy experiences. The council’s planning policies can facilitate this transition, but progress ultimately relies on businesses bringing forward viable plans.

Strengthening the town centre offer – the reasons to visit, live and work there -  will require contributions from across the private sector (landowners, developers, investors), public sector (national and local government) and the voluntary sector.

Most of the land and buildings in the town centre (including almost 1,000,000 sq ft of retail space) are owned by many different organisations, including:

  • FI Real Estate Management - owners of the Brunel Shopping Centre (520,000 sq ft retail space) and several large office blocks in the town centre
  • Meadow Partners - owners of The Parade shopping precinct (330,000 sq ft retail space) and nearby Falcon House
  • UK Commercial Property Trust (UKCPT) - owners of Regent Circus (98,800 sq ft retail/leisure space)

This means the council has no direct control over what happens in much of the town centre. However, using the land and buildings we do own, as well as our legal powers, access to targeted funding, local knowledge and influence, we can help unlock changes.

This will include over £100M of council-led investment over the next three years in public realm improvements and regeneration projects within the town centre. These will help to increase land values and make Swindon more attractive to commercial investors to provide new services, attractions, homes and workplaces.

This briefing paper on town centre regeneration produced by the House of Commons Library (December 2021) provides an overview of the Government funding and support designed to support the transformation of town centres and high streets.

This includes the Future High Streets Fund, launched in December 2018, which awarded the council £25M in December 2020 to create a new bus interchange on Fleming Way and improved cycle and pedestrian links.

Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP), which is funded by central Government, has contributed £3M to progress the design of the scheme together with the necessary site investigations and utility diversions. The council’s Cabinet also approved a contribution of £5M in capital funding to the project.

Other Government pots of money have been available for councils to bid for. 

In March 2021, Swindon received £19.6m from the Government’s Towns Fund for town centre regeneration projects. It is also using £4m secured through the Government’s Getting Building Fund to continue the regeneration of Brunel’s former Carriage Works.

In May 2022, Swindon also received funding from the Towns Fund to help progress projects in the Heritage Action Zone, including £5.895M towards the refurbishment of the historic Health Hydro in Milton Road and £3M to deliver improvements to the Sheppard Street underpass and Bristol Street tunnel to encourage more people to walk and cycle into the town centre.

The Government previously commissioned the 2018 High Street Report reviewing high streets and town centres. This led to the creation of the High Streets Task Force to provide expertise and support to local areas on regeneration programmes.

Business rates in Swindon are set by central government, which uses the revenue raised to fund public services. In October 2021, the Government published its final report following a review of business rates.

A move to 3-yearly revaluations from 2023 aims to ensure that bills are more responsive to changing economic conditions and make the system fairer for ratepayers. Following a consultation, the Government is due to announce in 2022 how it intends to implement of new duties and administrative reforms.

The 2022/23 Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Rates Relief scheme provides eligible, occupied, retail, hospitality and leisure properties with a 50% relief, up to a cash cap limit of £110,000 per business.

Meanwhile, most of the rents in the town centre are controlled by private landlords.

inSwindon BID Company Ltd is an independent, not for profit Business Improvement District (BID).

It was formed in 2007 to improve a defined commercial area in Swindon Town Centre. It is led by businesses in the BID area and funded through a levy charged on BID business rate payers, in addition to their business rates bill.

inSwindon BID provides additional services and enhancements to the BID area, representing and responding to the interests and needs of businesses, and developing projects such as public events for the good of the area and community.

For more information, visit the inSwindon BID website.

Over £100M of council-led investment will take place in the town centre over the next three years, following successful funding bids to central government.

To secure the funding, each project needed to demonstrate a clear return on investment and economic benefit to the wider town centre.

This includes the £33M redevelopment of Fleming Way to create a new bus interchange and much-improved pedestrian and cycle routes to make the centre of Swindon easier for people to access and move around.

We also secured £19.6M to progress five town centre regeneration schemes, including work that will make land ready for new homes and offices on the next phase of the Kimmerfields regeneration site, next to Zurich’s new flagship building.

Through the Heritage Action Zone we are also delivering improvements to key heritage buildings and spaces linked to our historic railway village.

Read more about the Swindon town centre projects

There are a number of private sector-led projects underway in the town centre which will bring economic benefits and help attract further investment and new businesses. These include:

  • Zurich ‘Unity Place’ building – the insurance company has invested £38m in state-of-the-art offices on the Kimmerfields regeneration site 
  • new £1.5 million entertainment venue at Regent Circus
  • conversion of former office space on Station Road into 232 flats
  • a 194-bedroom hotel and restaurant under construction on the former Aspen House site in Regent Street 

We are also working with landowners and businesses to coordinate regeneration in areas where it does not own land. This includes working with businesses and property owners in the Fleet Street area to secure new investment into the area.

The number of empty shops in areas such as Commercial Road and Faringdon Road is low due to continued strong demand from independent and niche retailers for smaller units. However, there are more empty shop units in primary retail areas due to a fall in demand from larger, national chains.

Like all town centres, Swindon has suffered from the complex and interacting trends including changes in the retail industry and people’s shopping habits. A growing number of national retail chains and department stores have vacated town centres, as more people shop online or out of town.

The pandemic accelerated this trend. Rising rents and business rates, which are not set by the council, have also contributed to chain store closures leaving behind empty units.

It means the town centre must diversify away from its traditional reliance on shops. This will involve, for example, converting buildings into smaller retail units, new homes, work places and spaces for experiences such as socialising and leisure activities.

The council’s planning policies can support the transition, but progress ultimately relies on businesses bringing forward plans.

Businesses make hard-headed investment decisions on the location of their shops based on where evidence demonstrates there is a profitable demand for their products and services. The pandemic and more recently rising inflation and living costs, have all knocked business confidence in making new investments.

Even before the pandemic, the impact of online shopping, business rates and rents, was already causing businesses to close rather than open new shops.

However, not all high street retailers are struggling. For example, independent and boutique retailers, that are able to offer unique products or a more personalised service, have flourished in recent years and are expected to continue to prosper.

The number of complementary, ‘experiential’ and leisure activities, such as coffee shops, hairdressers and nail bars have also increased in recent years.

The council, working alongside inSwindon, has been delivering a programme of interventions to enable this new retail and leisure offer to continue to grow.

Our wider town centre regeneration programme, which will transform the look and feel of the town centre, will further support the growth of this more distinctive retail and leisure offer.

Any income raised through parking charges and fines is spent on running parking services, including council-run car parks, blue badges, restrictions, permits and parking enforcement. Any extra is only spent on essential transport projects including filling potholes, supporting concessionary bus fares to help reduce congestion and other local transport projects that benefit the town.

However, this income remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels, as people who were previously working from offices, now work more from home, and people need to regain their confidence to return to public spaces.

In 2019 the Council was able to introduce free parking every Sunday in the town centre and this remains in place.

There is no silver bullet or quick fix to achieving change. It will take patience and the collective, sustained effort of the private, public and voluntary sector working together.

The pace of change will also depend on overall economic conditions, investor confidence and how far existing and future government policies stimulate changes as the country recovers from the pandemic and manages a period of high inflation and rising living costs.

It’s a big, complex task and, not everything will go as we might like. We have been successful in securing significant grant funding to help deliver our regeneration plans. However, it takes time to plan these big projects, secure planning permission and procure contractors.

Work on the new Zurich building are advanced, whilst the construction of the Fleming Way public realm scheme, the creation of University of Bath R&D hub at the Carriage Works and the construction of a new Premier Inn are underway.

Over the coming months we will start to see more regeneration schemes beginning to take shape, including the first phase of the restoration of the Health Hydro and the creation of a new film production studio at Brunel’s former Carriage Works.

Over £100M of council-led investment over the next three years in public realm improvements and regeneration projects within the town centre can only help create a snowball effect. Increasing land values and attracting new private sector investment in new services, facilities, homes and workspaces to support local jobs.

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