Work is underway to enhance a seaside town’s rich heritage as part of a £2.25 million regeneration scheme.

Durham County Council launched the Seaham Townscape Heritage Project last November after securing a £1.6 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund towards the works.

The project is aimed at breathing fresh life into Seaham’s historic town centre and focuses on the regeneration of targeted properties in the Church Street area. It will also help to encourage pedestrian movement around the centre, boosting footfall and aiding the town’s recovery from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the next eight weeks, new paving will be laid at the entrance points of Church Street, additional seating will be installed and a large brick planter will be removed. Seymour Civil Engineering Contractors is carrying out the work on the council’s behalf, following a successful tender submission.

It is the first phase of the public realm works, with enhancements also planned for the North Terrace, Terrace Green and South Terrace areas later this year. This includes the restoration of exposed Rainton Railway Line tracks to create a focal point.

Business improvement grants have also been offered to targeted property owners and occupiers to assist with restoration works, such as repairing and reinstating traditional features and opening currently inaccessible upper floor spaces. Discussions with grant applicants are well underway and planning permission is now in place for the first two properties. A series of training courses is also being arranged, where residents and businesses can learn more about the town’s heritage and how it can be protected.

Cllr Kevin Shaw, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for strategic housing and assets, said: “I am delighted the public realm improvements in Seaham town centre have begun.

“The pandemic has hit high streets across the country hard and the work we are undertaking will help Seaham town centre to recover, creating a vibrant and accessible environment for residents, businesses and visitors.

“Church Street, in particular, is home to a number of small, family-owned businesses and we hope this project will provide a welcome boost as we continue the longer-term regeneration work which has transformed our town.”

David Renwick, area director north at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our towns and high streets is clear. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, this project will put heritage at the heart of the regeneration and future of Seaham’s townscape.”

As well as the National Lottery funding, the council has committed partnership funding totalling £370,000 to the project so far, and a further £217,000 investment is expected over the duration of the project from town centre property owners.

In summer 2018, The National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded a £63,342 development grant, which enabled the council to work with local stakeholders to prepare detailed proposals for the final submission. The funding was used to undertake a full review of the Seaham Conservation Area and to formally adopt a New Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plan for the town.

The heritage project sits alongside the council’s approach to towns and villages regeneration, supporting and adapting to changes impacting on town centres.

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