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East Midlands Mayor Claire Ward speaks on high streets, transport and tourism priorities during visit to Newark

The new East Midlands Mayor visited Newark today (May 17) — and set out a vision for high streets and visitor economy among her priorities for the town.

Labour’s Claire Ward won the first-ever Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire mayoral election earlier this month, and just 10 days since taking office she paid a visit to Newark to meet with small business owners, community leaders and representatives from Newark and Sherwood District Council.

Her visit included a tour of the town’s historic marketplace, conversations with the owner of independent business BeanBlock Community Café — which allowed the mayor to understand more about the current challenges faced by retailers and the types of support that could be provided to help high streets across the region thrive — as well as a tour of current projects in the town with representatives from the council.

Newark and Sherwood District Council leader Paul Peacock, Mayor Claire Ward, deputy council leader Rowan Cozens, and Newark Town Partnership Board chairman Penny Taylor.
Newark and Sherwood District Council leader Paul Peacock, Mayor Claire Ward, deputy council leader Rowan Cozens, and Newark Town Partnership Board chairman Penny Taylor.

These included the Riverside regeneration project, the redevelopment of a former retail space on Stodman Street into high-quality living accommodation and a trip to Newark Castle to learn about the ambitious Gatehouse project, which will be a key attraction to help bring more visitors into the town.

Claire Ward, Mayor of the East Midlands, said: “I’ve had a great visit to Newark to see the potential they have and learn about the extra investment they have received and how it’s being used to revitalise the town centre.

“We’re seeing local towns and cities across the region recognising that the future of our high streets is a mixed economy with services, community activities, housing, and a great retail offer. Providing this mix of uses helps increase visitor numbers which will ensure places can thrive, creating new jobs and opportunities for our residents.

“The most exciting part of being Mayor is looking at the all the fantastic work being done by councils across the region and thinking about how strategically we can bring together the funding and powers from Westminster to support these areas and deliver the changes our residents want to see.”

Her visit also provided an opportunity for the Advertiser to present some of the key priorities for the Mayor, as outlined by residents in a recent voxpop.

One such priority was for better public transport, especially at night time.

Mayor Claire Ward with Newark and Sherwood District Council leader Paul Peacock.
Mayor Claire Ward with Newark and Sherwood District Council leader Paul Peacock.

The Mayor acknowledged the current difficulty in accessing good, reliable transport in areas of the district, and said: “I want to see more on demand buses and transport options, as well as active travel — developing opportunities for cycling and walking.”

Initially Claire Ward will work with existing travel authorities to improve services, but long term could bring it all under one authority — the East Midlands Combined County Authority (EMCCA), which she heads up.

Also on the topic of travel, potholes and the condition of roads remains a top priority for many across the district. While responsibility for fixing roads in the area will remain with Nottinghamshire County Council — or National Highways in the case of major A roads — the mayor has promised to “hold them to account” for quality road repairs, as well as committing to use any additional EMCCA resources to support this.

As well as revitalising the town’s high streets for residents, Claire Ward also hopes to bring in more visitors — with her election campaign promising the launch of a Visit East Midlands tourism campaign.

She said: “I think this will be massive, not just for Newark but across the region.”

A main focus of the scheme will be on connection — tying into her plans for transport — to help both tourists and residents discover hidden gems.

“I want people who visit Newark Castle to know they can hop on a train and see Nottingham Castle too,” she added.

“Its about getting people to move between the castle and the riverside, and into the town centre.”

The mayor has also reiterated her decision to rule out imposing a precept on residents during her first term, and will first use the money the authority has received from Westminster.

She added: “I want to use the public pound better.”

As a resident of Newark and Sherwood Claire Ward will be a regular face in the district, and despite the current seat of the EMCCA being in Chesterfield and the large scale of the two counties she now serves, she has said she will regularly be visiting communities across the area.

“This is a huge region,” she added

“Geographically it is five times the size of the West Midlands although the population is 2.1million. Going from the High Peak to Rushcliffe can be a challenge — but you can expect to see me out and about across the region.”

In the short term, the mayor said she is getting together “the right team” and seeing what can be done quickly to deliver improvements in the region.

Speaking about the Mayor’s visit, Paul Peacock, leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council, said: “We’re thrilled to welcome the first ever regional Mayor for the East Midlands Claire Ward to our wonderful town of Newark. It’s an exciting time for the area and through collaborative working, we’re eager to bring more opportunities, a bigger voice and more influence locally.

“Championing our high streets, supporting job growth and making places more vibrant are some of our top priorities and these are shared by the East Midlands Combined Authority.

“We both share a passion for making our town centres a bustling place to visit by working to increase footfall through several means including events and business engagement. We’re looking forward to the next few years of positive collaboration that will benefit our residents across the district.”

As Mayor, Claire Ward will, over time, have access to over £4 billion in funding, alongside devolved powers around transport, housing, skills and adult education, Net-Zero and economic development.

Next week she will be representing the East Midlands at the UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF), where she will be participating in a panel session to tell people why they should invest in the region, and will also be launching a new investment prospectus to highlight the region’s key investment opportunities and explaining the role the region can play in the future of energy at the East Midlands Hydrogen reception.

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