Levelling Up: A united front delivers

By Ged Henderson

21 Mar 2023

Multiversity

When all 15 council leaders came together to support all the levelling up bids submitted from across the county it was a move hailed as the latest stage in a level of political cooperation never seen before in Lancashire.

And that very public show of unity and desire to work together looks to have been recognised in Whitehall’s corridors of power.

Of the £350m of levelling up cash for the whole of the North West announced by central government in January almost £200m was awarded to Lancashire councils.

The projects being supported by the Levelling Up Fund have the ability to ‘spark transformational change’ according to the government.

The funding included £50m for the now renamed Eden Project Morecambe which will cover half of the projected £100m cost of building the destination.

As well as the Eden cash for Lancaster City Council, Blackpool will receive £40m to deliver a new ‘Multiversity’ - a carbon-neutral education campus in Blackpool’s Talbot Gateway Central Business District.

Almost £50m will be given to Lancashire County Council to support three levelling up projects in the east of the county that aim to deliver “greener, safer travel for local people”.

There is also £20m to regenerate Accrington town centre. The funding for Hyndburn will see the transformation of the Market Hall into a bustling food hall and trading space and the vacant and dilapidated Burtons Chambers and Market Chambers turned into new office spaces.

Blackburn will receive another £20m for its ‘growth axis transport package’ with the money invested in the town’s infrastructure to tackle congestion and improve walking and cycling routes. The successful bid included proposals to improve the Haslingden Road corridor and Junction 5 of the M65 – a strategic location of regional significance.

And Preston City Council will get £20m for its community infrastructure work. The funds will be used to regenerate the city’s parks, providing better green spaces for people to come together to exercise and socialise.

The Lancashire projects are among more than 100 across the country awarded a share of £2.1bn from round two of the government’s flagship Levelling Up Fund.

The government has also confirmed there will be a further round of the fund, providing more opportunity to level up places across the UK.

Announcing the cash boost, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Through greater investment in local areas we can grow the economy, create good jobs and spread opportunity everywhere.

“By reaching even more parts of the country than before, we will build a future of optimism and pride in people’s lives and the places they call home.”

Funding for Blackpool’s Multiversity will allow Blackpool and The Fylde College to replace its ageing facilities with world-class state-of-the￾art ones in the heart of the town centre. The Multiversity will promote higher-level skills, including automation and artificial intelligence, helping young people secure jobs of the future.

The government’s levelling up secretary Michael Gove said: “We are firing the starting gun on more than 100 transformational projects in every corner of the UK that will revitalise communities that have historically been overlooked but are bursting with potential.

“This new funding will create jobs, drive economic growth and help to restore local pride.

We are delivering on the people’s priorities, levelling up across the UK to ensure that no matter where you are from, you can go as far as your talents will take you.”

All areas were invited to bid for round two by August 2022 to invest in projects that improve the everyday lives of people in their areas.

The government says all applications were assessed using a “fair, robust and transparent methodology” published online.

Blackpool Council leader Lynn Williams said of the resort’s successful bid, which was supported by Wyre Council: “It is heartening to know that our vision for the regeneration of our town has been recognised by central government and we will continue to work with them and our partners across the town to make this vision a reality.”

And Hyndburn MP Sara Britcliffe added: “The successful Levelling Up Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Fund bids are a fantastic example of what happens when we work together.”

While most of Lancashire was celebrating, the mood in other parts of the North West was less upbeat. Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, called on Mr Gove to visit the town and explain the thinking behind the decision to reject its bids for £40m of levelling up cash.

She pointed out that while Bolton had not made the list of successful projects, Mr Sunak’s constituency in North Yorkshire is getting £19m from the fund.

She said: “Bolton South East is the 38th most deprived constituency. Richmond, however, is much wealthier and as such is the 450th most deprived.

“Despite this, the PM’s constituency gets £19m in levelling up funding, and Bolton gets nothing. How does this make sense?

“How can our town, the 19th most deprived borough, be ignored in favour of wealthier areas, by a fund designed to address regional inequalities?”

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