On the road to new opportunities

Communities in North Kesteven, particularly in the historic market town of Sleaford, have plenty to be hopeful about this year with new jobs, support schemes for business owners and highway improvements on the horizon. By Melanie Burton.

Though the coronavirus has not gone away, positivity will be the watchword of the New Year and is key to the return of some semblance of normality, albeit with a new way of doing things.

The vision for a £56 million enterprise park for the town of Sleaford is a step nearer to reality with the submission of an application for full planning consent. Up to 500 jobs could be created at the 37-acre Sleaford Moor Enterprise Park, on land north of Pride Parkway in Sleaford.

A detailed masterplan has been released for North Kesteven District Council’s business park which looks to bring together economic growth with measures to cut carbon and respond to climate change as a district. It is hoped the site will unlock new opportunities in Sleaford as well as the district with plans showing floor space for new units, creating much-needed space for businesses to expand and potential for attracting new investment.

A hybrid planning application containing the masterplan has been submitted for planning consent along with indicative drawings and layouts. It was scheduled to be considered in December or early January, which could result in fairly imminent groundworks taking shape.

Full planning permission is sought for the construction of site-wide infrastructure including a spine road within the site, landscaping, drainage and earthworks, as well as outline permission for 37,245m2 of new buildings.

Leader of North Kesteven District Council, Councillor Richard Wright said: “Our Sleaford Moor Enterprise Park is a significant multi-million pound investment for North Kesteven. It is a chance to unlock opportunity for new investment and business growth in North Kesteven.

“It is also a mark of confidence in our businesses and communities which together, and despite the difficulties still caused by coronavirus, stay determined and resilient and continue to make our district the fantastic place it is, in which to live and work.

“A key aim for the enterprise park is to respond to climate change, and so it would incorporate advanced low carbon and environmentally conscious measures in order to achieve a sustainable site which would create a precedent for future developments.

“We are setting our sights on becoming carbon neutral not only as a council but as a district by 2030 together with our communities, as set out in our recently approved Climate Emergency Strategy and Action Plan.”

Site-wide measures include landscaping to bring in the natural environment, planting along the spine road to create a green backbone with emphasis on indigenous plants, tree planting in line with the council’s tree strategy, sustainable drainage systems and attenuation ponds doubling up as water sources for wildlife and increased wellbeing.

Sleaford Moor Enterprise Park would be an extension to the already established industrial area in the north east of Sleaford, creating potential for local supply chains, innovation and collaboration along with opportunity for connections with any new businesses drawn in by the site. It benefits from the strategic east to west access the A17 gives across Lincolnshire and its connections with the A1 and east coast ports. It is also easily accessible by bus, cycle and on foot including new pathways to accommodate this as sustainable travel choices.

Amenities in Sleaford are within walking distance and there would be pedestrian access to new-build housing nearby and the adjoining Sleaford Moor woodland for increased wellbeing. If approved a tender process will follow with infrastructure work expected to be completed in 2021 and phased development of units through to 2027. The units would be available for leasehold and have a range of uses, mainly general industrial, warehouse and distribution with ancillary office space and potential for trade showroom use. The site was purchased by North Kesteven District Council with the aim of creating the business park. It is a Strategic Employment Site as defined in the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan.

Retailers and businesses have been particularly hard hit in 2020 and much work is being done in the background to help them get back on track. Shoppers on the hunt for unfamiliar shops or wanting to know what’s a little further from home or off the beaten track now have a new tool to help them shop safely and spend locally.

An online directory of businesses in North Kesteven has been launched to support people looking to identify local specialists and home delivery or online options – to facilitate safe, confident and Covid-secure shopping. It is also a great way to scan see what’s on offer district-wide before defaulting to national chains or online retailers.

The directory has been developed by North Kesteven District Council’s BusinessNK team so shoppers can see at a glance the variety of retailers and businesses in Sleaford and other NK communities and access their services.

“It has been a long and tough year for our local businesses due to coronavirus,” Councillor Wright explained.

“Our hope is that this directory will go some way to help, by enabling people to explore shops new to them or simply find their favourites more easily. It also enables people who may not be familiar with a particular town, village or location to see what’s available before stepping out.

“Every pound spent locally helps the hard-working business owners and staff who contribute to making the district a great place to live and work.”

From its launch in advance of the Small Business Saturday on 5th December focusing initially on 70-odd traders in Sleaford it has broadened to include many more retailers across North Kesteven. Each listing contains space for a shopfront or similar image, a Google map showing the pinned business location, opening hours, website and phone number, for purchases or enquiries online and over the phone.

The council is continuing to urge people to consider safely shopping local wherever possible – if in person by washing hands regularly or using hand gel, wearing face coverings unless exempt, maintaining social distancing and following the additional measures in place inside and outside of premises and on high streets.

When shopping in Sleaford, it is also worth bearing in mind that its pay-for parking is among the lowest-priced across Lincolnshire. Alongside ample short-stay on-street parking opportunities, there are options for all-day parking for as little as £2 off Grantham Road and an initial hour free at Eastgate Car Park. Card payments in all car parks introduce further convenience and Covid-conscious safety measures.

Also helping to attract shoppers safely back to Sleaford’s High Street are the road improvements aimed at preventing traffic jams and speeding up travel into and out of the town centre. The next phase in a major £8.25m highways investment to ease traffic flows and unlock Sleaford’s growth opportunities is now imminent. Works are expected to start in mid-February, subject to suitable weather. The project involves the installation of additional lanes at each approach to Holdingham roundabout and traffic signals at most of the entries onto the roundabout, easing congestion and improving safety. It follows on from a successful improvement scheme at the A17/A153 Sleaford Rugby Club junction.

During work, drivers can expect a combination of lane narrowing and lane closures, some night-time traffic signals and full road and roundabout closures as and when needed.

The two schemes are being funded by the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, North Kesteven District Council, Lincolnshire County Council and developer contributions.

Councillor Wright said together the two programmes of work were really important in releasing the full potential of the new economic growth area at Sleaford Moor Enterprise Park as well as opening up broader economic regeneration and highways safety aspirations for the town.

“Having secured a core £2million in Single Growth Funding to bring forward these schemes and committed a further £250,000 of council funds within a funding partnership, the district council places great strategic importance on getting this improved infrastructure in place in readiness for the delivery of housing and significant jobs growth.

“In addition to the safety and traffic flow improvements, this upgrade will be critical in enabling the SMEP to attract new businesses, facilitate expansions and fulfil its job creation potential, as well as supporting established businesses within Sleaford’s principal industrial area.

“More importantly, now more than ever, these junction improvements will support the advancement of commercial development and acceleration of growth opportunities more quickly than otherwise and I see that as a cause for great hope despite the short-term disruption and delay.”

The changes made to the rugby club junction mean it is now traffic light controlled, has a reduced speed limit and more defined space, making it easier for those larger vehicles using it. Once both schemes are complete, people can expect less congestion, increased safety and better journey times when travelling in and around Sleaford.

It is not only traffic that is benefitting from new improvement schemes – cycling in the area is also being helped and supported. New pop-up bicycle racks have been installed in Sleaford town centre close to the library opposite the Market Place aimed at helping to make it easier for people to choose to cycle into the town centre for work, leisure and shopping.

They are being installed across the county using funds from £100,000 of the first round of emergency active travel fund money from the Government to help aid the recovery from Covid-19. It is also in line with the council’s ongoing cycling strategy.

In any other year Howell Manor would be looking back now and reflecting on a year’s worth of weddings and events. Obviously last year that was not the case.

“Though some couples and venues were lucky enough to still hold intimate weddings in 2020 with a handful of loved ones, we chose to support our couples in postponing the weddings of their dreams to this year instead.

“If 2020 taught us anything it was the value of love and time with our loved ones. We have had great interest from couples changing venues and happily newly engaged couples attending socially distanced tours of the farm.

“We always encourage couples to come and see us in person for a relaxed and safe look around, it’s the best way to experience where they could potentially spend their special day.”

Howell Manor has taken the opportunity during Covid restrictions to hunt out more local suppliers to add to their ever expanding list of recommended businesses, as well as developing new accommodation packages.

“As we enter 2021 we explore the possibility of offering accommodation in the form of self-contained shepherd’s huts near one of our reservoirs for exclusive use and standalone bookings. We will keep you posted on our progress with those.

“We hope 2021 will be the year we remember the love we cherished in 2020 and find the opportunity to celebrate it. Let that love be celebrated in person, in all its well earned glory.”

One thing that shone through in 2020 was community spirit, which came to the fore at the beginning of the pandemic when the nation went into the first lockdown not knowing it would last for nearly 12 weeks.

In May town councillor Anthony Brand became the elected Mayor of Sleaford unsure of what was to come and vowed to maintain that spirit to help get the town back on its feet.

He designated the year as the Spirit of Sleaford and as he looks back on the past eight months some of his plans are coming to, or have come to, fruition through a range of projects providing renewal and enhancements across Sleaford.

“When I was elected Mayor in May it was already clear that this would not be a normal Civic Year,” he said.

“However, the Town Council has continued to support the local community and was one of the first to adopt the use of Zoom for meetings. It was important to maintain the Spirit of Sleaford in a number of ways and through a range of enterprises.

“We have a cemetery which dates from 1850 and is well worth a visit for a number of interesting monuments and a wide range of specimen trees.

“Also situated in the cemetery are the remains of an old brickworks. The land is unsuitable for burials but the council is funding a renovation project to turn the area into a woodland and by April after a scheme of landscaping we will plant around 150 trees.”

Mr Brand also launched a tree fundraising initiative under which members of the community could buy a miniature oak tree sapling and watch it grow.

“Continuing on the theme of trees, my charitable endeavours this year were through establishing a tree fund to plant specimen ones in selected areas of the town,” he explained.

“Starting with acorns from local oaks, saplings were grown hydroponically and can now be purchased through the Town Hall.”

All the money raised from the purchase of the saplings will enable more trees to be purchased and planted in Sleaford and the trees will provide homes for wildlife, reduce pollution and help the environment.

Sleaford is also lucky to be home to the National Centre for Craft & Design which hosts a number of arts and craft groups including local art group MosArt, which has played its part in helping to enhance the look of the town.

“The group embroidered the town with colourful and artistic mosaics, “Mr Brand said. “This year they completed a mosaic memorial plaque on the wall of Sleaford Museum and the council is continuing to fund more, which will be located in Gladstone Yard.”

The plaque was unveiled by the Mayor in honour of long serving member of the town’s Civic Trust and champion of the River Slea, the late Les Gostick who was well-known in the town, characteristically doffing his hat to those he met (this appears on the plaque in silhouette).

The project was paid for by the Civic Trust and Sleaford Museum, along with private donations, including from Jim Gostick, Les’ son, and was installed by Carre Heritage. Originally the idea was for a bronze statue but the mosaic memorial developed from a proposal by Marion Sanders of the NCCD and Pauline Dobson of MosArt.

Les became Head Postmaster and was famed for his determination to ‘Save the Slea’. He followed on from Helen Vidal of the Civic Trust who was successful in having the wier by Cogglesford Mill set up in 1977.

The river, however, was still very low on water – indeed, it dried up completely in warm weather and was becoming an eyesore. Les worked with Harry Gregson to persuade the authorities to install a borehole in 1992 and as a consequence the problems of seasonal drying up in the Slea no longer occur.

In fact it has flourished to become a very attractive area of the town once more and a haven for wildlife.

Work to extend and enhance the National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford is well on schedule ready for unveiling to residents. The £1.2 million project is due to finish in May 2021.

It will see the centre’s reputation grow not only as a national centre for arts and crafts but for the arts generally, with new spaces for visitors and arts practitioners.

Once complete, the new look building will feature a performing arts studio, a ground floor gallery, an artist’s workshop, a children’s zone and conferencing space.

The food and drinks offer will also be significantly improved by a large indoor bistro and an outdoor seating area taking in views of the River Slea.

In addition it marks the beginning of a new era for the centre as the new Sleaford office of MRI Software, a global leader in property software solutions, prepares to relocate from Westgate to a new workspace in the development once complete and fitted out.

All the current features of the NCCD will be retained with the addition of a 200m2 ground extension. By October 2020, the steels for the extension had been installed and masonry work started below and above ground and now the extension is very much taking shape.

Another sector that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic is the cultural, leisure and entertainment industries with pubs, cafes, cinemas, leisure facilities and heritage sites all having to close for long periods.

Improvement plans had to be put on hold but the council remains committed to achieving a redevelopment of the Buttermarket area at the heart of Sleaford and opportunities continue to be reviewed as does work on the details in realising such a complex heritage scheme.

The aspiration also remains to bring forward a cinema, but it is important to bear in mind that as the pandemic continues to impact the cultural, leisure and hospitality sectors, it is challenging to progress at the pace hoped. However, the council says the situation remains under review.

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