Skip to main content

Regeneration in Towns and Cities

Volume 702: debated on Monday 25 October 2021

The Department is investing billions in local growth funds—including the towns fund and the levelling-up fund, which I mentioned earlier—to deliver regeneration across the UK as we level up across all parts of the country. Our high streets strategy, published earlier this year, outlined our vision for supporting thriving places. We have an ambitious agenda for improving opportunity, living standards and public services, and for renewing pride for the whole of the UK. That will be set out in our upcoming levelling-up paper.

I thank the Minister for that response. Supporting cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, so that we level up opportunity and get the investment we need, is vital. Will my hon. Friend have a chat with the Chancellor and the Secretary of State about supporting our levelling-up bids through this week’s Budget, so that we get the investment we need in Stoke-on-Trent?

I recognise that hon. Members from Stoke-on-Trent are very keen and have thrown their full support behind the levelling-up bids that have been submitted. The bids are being assessed in line with the published assessment process. The outcomes of the first round will be announced this autumn, as we have said, but I cannot comment specifically on his bid.

Does my hon. Friend agree that initiatives such as Conservative-run North Lincolnshire Council’s policy of two hours’ free parking are incredibly important for supporting our high streets and town centres? I extend an invitation to her: if she wishes to make use of one of those free parking spaces, we would be very glad to show her our ambitious levelling-up plans.

I agree with my hon. Friend: parking policies are important in supporting high streets to thrive. That is one of the reasons why, in the build back better high streets strategy, we announced a package of measures to make parking more accessible. I thank her for the strong support she has shown for North Lincolnshire’s levelling-up fund bids. She will know that we expect to announce the outcomes later.

The Government’s levelling-up agenda will finally bring much-needed investment to the east midlands, and the town of Kimberley in my constituency may gain hugely from it. Kimberley has some fantastic ideas, such as moving its cricket pitch and building a new community hub. However, there is concern among local community leaders that if the money is committed for a three-year time span but is not spent on time, it will no longer be available for use on the new hub. Can I have a commitment from the Minister that that is not the case?

We are looking to empower local communities such as Kimberley as part of our levelling-up agenda, but I must stress that any project that wishes to gain Government funding must have a fully developed plan before bidding. Places should have confidence in their capacity to deliver to agreed timescales.

Falmouth has huge potential. It is the third-deepest natural harbour in the world and is the gateway to the Atlantic. However, it is crying out for investment, and often gets overlooked because of how well the town does with very little. I stand ready to make the case for Falmouth in the next tranche of the levelling-up fund. Will the Minister confirm that the next tranche will be forthcoming? The Secretary of State said that we would have it in a wee while. Could the Minister perhaps expand on that? Will she, or the Secretary of State, join me for a tour of Falmouth to see how it could unleash its potential?

First of all, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Truro town deal in her constituency and welcome her continued work as a champion of the area. I encourage her and local partners to continue to work with us on our shared ambition to level up Falmouth and towns throughout Cornwall as future opportunities emerge. She will know that as part of this work, £88.7 million of towns fund investment is driving regeneration and growth in Camborne, Penzance, St Ives and Truro, and there are real economic benefits for Falmouth, too. I am sure she and I can discuss a potential visit in due course.

Levelling up has sometimes been mis-described as a transfer of resources from the south to the north, but is it not a better analysis to say that it spreads the opportunities often seen in cities to the towns and villages of our communities, as part of the wider social covenant? If so, what plans does the Minister have to support towns in Broadland, including Fakenham, Acle and Aylsham?

I should start by saying that the levelling-up agenda is not transferring resources from cities to towns, or from south to north. Levelling up is about empowering local leaders and communities to drive real change, and restoring local pride across the UK, so I thank my hon. Friend for asking that question. The Government are investing over £17 million in Norfolk’s towns, with ambitious town deals already delivered in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn. The UK shared prosperity fund will help to ensure levelling up for people in places across the UK. It will increase and spread opportunity for people no matter where they live, including in places like Fakenham.

The town deal is incredibly important to us in Staveley, and we welcome the fact that the Government are supporting the plans for the town centre. Will the Minister stress to her colleagues that the cut to universal credit will fatally undermine retail in Staveley, and that these plans would benefit from universal credit not being cut?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are doing everything they can to support communities such as his. He knows the official Government policy on universal credit. We are putting other resources in place to support those people in his community who need them the most.

With Question 16 in mind, which we may not fit in today, may I ask what urgent action the Department will take, with COP26 around the corner, to ensure that local authorities have a proper grip on flood defences and the environmental issues that councils face day by day?

I apologise to the hon. Lady, but I am not sure, given her reference to COP26, what sort of answer she is expecting. I can ensure that she gets a letter providing further information.

Even if we add up all the piecemeal pots of regeneration funding that the Government like to mention in their press releases, they still come to nowhere near the £15 billion that has been cut from local councils under the Tories. The Government have failed to deliver on promises to reimburse covid costs, and the Tory-led Local Government Association says that there is now £2.6 billion in non-covid cost pressures on councils. On Wednesday, the Chancellor has the chance to tackle the council funding crisis that the Government have created, so what demands have Ministers in this team made to get the Budget settlement that all our towns and cities need?

I cannot comment specifically on what will be announced in the Budget this Wednesday, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman what, for instance, we did in the most recent local government finance settlement. In this year’s settlement, we made available an increase in core spending power in England; it will go from £49 billion this year to £51.3 billion in 2021-22—a 4.6% increase in cash terms. We see ourselves as a supporter of local government across the country; we very much speak up for it in our discussions with the Treasury, and I am sure that will become apparent on Wednesday.