Nearly £1m of EU funding to go towards reopening River Lea in Luton
Nearly £1m of European Union (EU) funding will contribute towards a project to open up sections of the River Lea in Luton.
Creating a park in the town centre "will set the tone" for further improvements included in the masterplan for the area, the borough council's executive committee heard.
The aim of the project is to de-culvert 45m of the river in the former Silver Street car park, which received planning permission last year.
The council applied for EU regional development funding in September 2019 and submitted a full application in March 2020 for this scheme, said the report to the committee.
"This creates a pocket park as well as key green and blue space, within an area of deficit, and fits in with the master plan aims."
At the start of 2021/22, the capital programme had a budget of £1,737,100 towards the development, added the report.
"If the tender is competitive and capital funds are sufficient, works are due to start later this year for completion in spring/summer 2022.
"The council will be required to fund £919,526 of the total capital programme budget from the beginning of 2020/21.
"A funding agreement has been signed with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government for European regional development grant funding of £908,574 in capital funding and £49,627 revenue match finance."
Reopening the River Lea has already made a significant difference (see story here) to Manor Road Park.
Labour Farley councillor Sian Timoney said: "This was something already allocated in the capital programme.
"There was a culvert underneath the land in Silver Street, which is still at risk of collapse and so it's been boarded off ever since.
"It was costly to replace that culvert, but we've now secured just under £1m funding from the European regional development fund to create a new town centre park there.
"Opening up the River Lea works out cheaper than repairing the culvert to allow construction on top of it.
"It makes more financial sense and we'll get a nice green space in the town centre," she explained.
"The opening up of the River Lea is something which has been called for over a very long period of time.
"This will set the tone for the larger town centre developments which we want to do."
Labour Saints councillor Javed Hussain supported the plans, but asked about the timescale for the work and the potential risk of losing the European contribution.
Councillor Timoney, who's the executive member for regeneration and inclusive growth, replied: "We don't have long."
Councillors approved the capital funding for the project.