Skip to main content

Levelling Up Barry, Vale of Glamorgan

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

I will call Alun Cairns to move the motion. I will then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered levelling up Barry, Vale of Glamorgan.

Thank you, Mr Pritchard, for calling me to propose this debate on levelling up in Barry. It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, and I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight the fantastic opportunities for Barry and the background to why it needs UK Government support.

I recognise that economic development is devolved and that the primary responsibility for supporting investment in Wales falls to the Welsh Government, but the levelling-up agenda is central to the UK Government’s plans. I am delighted that my long-standing calls to change the law to allow the UK Government to invest directly in communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has now passed. We no longer have to wait for the Welsh Government to act.

Barry has been ignored for far too long by the Welsh Government. This is our chance. Our Barry Making Waves project provides the next step in the development of Wales’s largest town. It is a hugely exciting project, supported far and wide, and meets the aspirations that community groups and I have held for many years. Barry is a fantastic place to live, work and visit. Most recently, it has become best known to many from the BBC comedy “Gavin and Stacey”, but the town has a long, proud history steeped in coal exports, built on the back of the Barry Dock and Railways Act 1884. The Act was passed to develop a railway line from the valleys, to create a coal-exporting facility in town, and to break the monopoly of neighbouring Tiger bay.

The railway line also provided the connection for millions of tourists to visit the fantastic coastline every year, notably Whitmore bay, and, since the post-war period, the Butlin’s holiday camp, which has long since closed. That highlights the economic activity and relative prosperity that existed throughout much of the previous century. However, with the closure of the south Wales coalmines, changes to larger ships and ports, and overseas holidays becoming commonplace, Barry was left looking for a new focus.

I also want to point out that, although coalmining communities have rightly received significant sums of public money over decades to support their transition to new industries, Barry was left without, because it exported rather than mined coal. Furthermore, as west Wales and the valleys received more than £5 billion in new aid since 2000, the quirks of the map and EU regulations meant that Barry, with some of the most deprived communities in Wales, did not qualify as a priority area. As a result, very small sums were available for community programmes, rather than for significant infrastructure development.

The point I am making to the Minister is that other areas in need have been supported in their economic transition, but Barry has missed out. In spite of that, Barry has made huge strides in its regeneration over the past 15 years or so, with Barry Island, supported by the “Gavin and Stacey” phenomenon, which provided confidence and a renewed interest. The waterfront development has modernised the town and brought new housing. Campaigning groups, such as Pride in Barry, notably led by Paul Haley, and FocusBarry, led by Dennis Harkus, galvanised the community’s ambition, and local developers such as Simon Baston, took significant risks with their own investments in developing Goodsheds and former pumping station projects.

It is a town, however, that needs support to move to the next step of development. The data speaks for itself. The Welsh indices of multiple deprivation show that the most deprived communities in Wales over decades have persistently been in Barry. Five areas were among the 10% most deprived wards in Wales in 2011. That is in spite of being just a short distance from the relative affluence of Cardiff and the relative prosperity of the rural Vale. Three areas in Barry remain at the bottom of the league table. Levels of productivity are much lower than the UK average, at £14,706. The town has relatively few employment sites, and most employees commute to Cardiff to work every day.

We need to recognise, however, the positive changes that have taken place. Barry Island has been transformed to a year-round resort enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The docks area, now referred to as the Waterfront, has been refreshed and regenerated, and a new Cardiff and Vale College campus is to be developed to support new skills.

With the help of the levelling-up bid, the town’s redevelopment will move to the next level. The Barry Making Waves project will put rocket boosters under the regeneration ambitions. It is a bid for £19.9 million of levelling-up funds to release a £32 million project. The central feature of the levelling-up bid is a 400-berth marina, which will make the most of the docks area; attract more visitors and increase spend to the community; create jobs, from engineering to hospitality; transform the image of the town; and complete the western side of the Waterfront development. It will have a new flexible 30,000 square feet hot-desking workspace to enable many of the professionals who have moved into the town to the new housing to work locally, rather than travel to Cardiff.

The proposal builds on a small-scale model elsewhere in the town, where demand is strong and the business and environmental outcomes meet local, Welsh and UK aspirations. The plan includes a 2-acre park with an events space, ensuring it remains an open, public area for everyone to enjoy, from Barry and beyond, rather than just the immediate local residents.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing forward this proposal and on his assiduous efforts as an MP on behalf of his constituency. He mentioned Barry and beyond. Beyond Barry, there is my constituency of Strangford. When it comes to levelling up—I welcome the Minister to her place and I look forward to her contribution—the Government have committed to levelling up the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I want to ensure that we in Strangford and Northern Ireland also have the same opportunities to level up. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree? Barry is great, and he should be doing that, but it is important for us, too.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making those points, which allows me to underline some points that I touched on earlier. Economic development has generally been a devolved function. Therefore, investing in communities and attracting new jobs and companies has been a devolved, rather than a reserved, responsibility. I am a former Secretary of State and the representative of Barry, but I have also seen communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland that the devolved Administrations did not have the capacity to focus on because there were more deprived areas elsewhere. Therefore, the UK Government needed to step in.

There is also politics at play. I am concerned that the Vale of Glamorgan does not receive the Welsh Government’s support because they choose to prioritise the valley heartlands, where their party is strongly represented. This is an opportunity for the UK Government to reset that balance and invest in needy projects across the whole of the United Kingdom, whether in Northern Ireland or Wales, so that communities that have been left behind have the chance to shine in the sun.

As well as the central feature of the marina, the 30,000 square feet hot-desk workspace and open parkland, the eastern side of the dock will also have a watersports facility that will allow local residents of all backgrounds to access the water. That is hugely popular with community groups. I declare an interest: I am a trustee of the Ocean Watersports Trust Vale of Glamorgan, which will occupy that building. Importantly, that project will be in partnership with Cardiff and Vale College to further support tourism and skills development. That also complements the new college building that is being constructed just a short walk away.

The whole scheme, the whole Barry Making Waves project, is low risk—low risk to the Treasury, to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and to the local authority—because it has only two central partners: the local authority and Associated British Ports. It also has a high cost-benefit ratio that will meet the deep-rooted structural challenges in Barry, provide opportunities to many who have been left behind, and correct a deficiency in public funding support that has existed for decades. It is understandable that the Welsh Government have prioritised west Wales and the valleys, but it is regrettable that Barry has been left to reinvent itself without support compared with other areas, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned.

The levelling-up fund and shared prosperity fund were designed to meet these types of challenges in communities such as these, across the whole of the United Kingdom. I played a part in planning the policy and sought to ensure that communities across the whole of the UK that have been overlooked because of quirks of maps, EU regulations or devolution, or simply because political will has driven investment elsewhere—communities that did not fall into those favoured categories—could benefit. Such is the interest in the Barry Making Waves scheme that the Westminster-based think-tank Onward has conducted a study on Barry’s challenges and ambitions. Although the report is not yet published, I am confident that it will underline many of the points I have made, and I hope the Minister will look at that report when Onward publishes it, so strong is the interest in that regeneration project.

Finally, I want to recognise that Barry Making Waves is a springboard project that will attract other development opportunities to Barry. I am in discussions with private developers that are prepared to spend tens of millions of pounds on developing other employment sites on the back of that transformation. As well as the merits of the project in its own right, it stands as a catalyst for other private development opportunities, which include ambitions for a hotel—again, building on the strengths of the Barry Making Waves project and the renewed tourism offer.

In closing, I draw the Minister’s attention to the capacity issues. The Vale of Glamorgan is a small local authority, particularly by UK standards, and as I have stated, it does not have experience in submitting bids for large-scale capital projects because we simply did not qualify. The project has therefore taken a huge amount of effort and focus, and I pay tribute to Marcus Goldsworthy and Philip Chappell and their team from the local authority for their work in bringing those strands together and working closely with me and others to ensure that such a strong, credible bid has been made. I urge the Minister to look closely at the quality of that bid, but also to look at it in the context of a community that has not received the support it deserves from the Welsh Government or the European Union. This is Barry’s time to shine.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) for raising the important issue of levelling up Barry town in his constituency. If I may say so, his speech was a brilliant tourism ad. He highlighted some of the best of Barry, not least “Gavin and Stacey”, which I am a huge fan of.

As my right hon. Friend highlighted, the Government’s central mission is all about levelling up all parts of the UK. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), I reiterate that—all parts of the UK, including Wales and Northern Ireland. We will do so by ensuring that we spread opportunities more equally around the country, empowering local leaders and bringing left-behind communities up to the level of more prosperous areas. I was particularly interested to hear about the background of my right hon. Friend’s constituency, with its transition from coalmining to a new purpose. In many ways, that is reminiscent of my own constituency, which was reliant on coalmining and, of course, the railways, and has had a journey to find its new ethos and purpose. It was interesting to hear about those similarities, which I know are reflected in a number of constituencies right across the country.

I am delighted to have the chance today to set out the opportunities being made available to Barry and its community through the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Wales is already benefiting from substantial investment across a whole range of new UK Government funding opportunities. In total, Wales has been allocated over £750 million of levelling-up funding in the last year alone. That includes over £45 million from the community renewal fund, benefiting 160 local community projects. Places across Wales have also received an additional £121 million across 10 projects under the first round of the levelling-up fund. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that those new opportunities mark an incredibly exciting time for local places in Wales to be at the centre of decision making.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the support that has been made available, but may I draw to her attention the point that I made about the capacity of local authorities? Those projects that gained support were primarily by authorities that were used to bidding for European-aided schemes. Clearly, we have now left the European Union and we have the levelling-up fund, with the shared prosperity fund to follow. Some local authorities that have been left out until now did not have the capacity to bid, or were not up to speed. That is not their fault; it is simply a lack of experience in bidding. I therefore ask the Minister to look specifically at those communities that have been left out for quite a long period.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point. Ensuring that areas have the capacity and experience to complete what can be quite lengthy and complicated bidding processes is something that has featured in my inbox quite a lot during my time as Minister. I am looking at funding simplification to see how we can make these processes simpler and more streamlined so that there are fair opportunities, even for smaller authorities.

We have had a fantastic response to these new funding opportunities from local partners in Wales, including Vale of Glamorgan, which fully embraced its role in the delivery of the community renewal fund. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will know all too well about the £970,000 allocated to six exciting projects in the Vale, which have been delivering for local people, communities and businesses over the last year.

The community renewal fund is all about supporting the people and communities who need it most right across the UK. It is about creating opportunities, being innovative and trialling new approaches and ideas, all at a local level. To nurture that innovative thinking and give the communities the flexibility they need, we encourage partners to deliver on skills, local business, supporting people into employment, and community and place.

Through funds such as the community renewal fund, we have strengthened the relationship between the UK Government and the places we serve in every part of the UK, including Barry, we are working directly with local partners—people who know, understand and are part of the social fabric of their communities. I am proud that we are giving them autonomy over local decisions to support positive changes for their communities. That is evident, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will know, through Barry Bands Together, a community regeneration project run by a local musical partnership in Barry. It is using the skills of its members to work alongside the local authority music service to provide a new focal point for musical training. That multi-agency approach focuses on upskilling trainees, empowering children and embodying a cohesive and community-centric way of delivering local services through music.

The good news does not stop there. Other areas in the Vale of Glamorgan have also benefited from the community renewal fund. Enterprise Vale, another prominent project in the area, was awarded over £100,000 for its business support services. Over the last year it has been taking action to support local people into self-employment, and helping those in the community who are economically inactive to build confidence and take the important step into the world of business.

Building on the success of the community renewal fund, £2.6 billion is being allocated to places across the UK as part of the UK shared prosperity fund, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. Of that, a sizeable £585 million has been allocated to places in Wales, with over £14 million specifically for the Vale of Glamorgan. This trailblazing new approach to investment, and the empowerment of local communities to level up and build pride in place, will see direct investment in three local priorities: communities and place, support for local businesses, and people and skills.

I am pleased to say that the approach to regional collaboration intrinsic to delivering the shared prosperity fund has seen all 10 local authorities in the south-east of Wales submit a joint regional investment plan, backed with over £278 million of funding. As a partner in the region, Vale of Glamorgan will play its full part in delivering the regional investment plan and tailoring areas of support to local communities, including those in Barry.

I should also take this opportunity—I will be told off by the boss if I do not—to mention that the freeports programme is another core part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda taking place in Wales. Freeports will unlock much-needed investment in port communities up and down the country, helping those areas to overcome barriers to investment through a broad package of incentives. Our new freeport programme in Wales, which is being jointly delivered with the Welsh Government and backed by an initial £26 million of funding, will help us to make this vision a reality. The programme will drive forward our ambition for Wales to compete at a global level, while creating new local jobs and putting Welsh communities on the path to long-term growth and prosperity.

I know that my right hon. Friend will be familiar with the levelling-up fund, through which £4.8 billion of investment is being made available to provide crucial capital investment in local infrastructure. The aim of this competitive funding is to empower local areas to identify new opportunities for investment in creating pride in place. Projects are prepared in collaboration with local stakeholders and should have clear benefits to the local community, while being aligned with a broader local economic strategy. Through the first round of the levelling-up fund, over £1.7 billion was awarded to local areas across the UK, of which £121 million came to Wales, substantially more than would have been the case through any Barnett-based formula.

As Members may know, the second round of the levelling-up fund opened for bidding earlier this summer. My officials are continuing the assessment process, and successful bids should expect to be notified by the end of the year. I am sure my right hon. Friend knows that, due to the competitive process involved, I am unable to comment specifically on individual applications, but I look forward to seeing the outcome of all bids submitted, including the Barry Making Waves project, which he spoke so passionately about. I pass on my thanks to all those in his local authority who have worked so hard on making that bid and bringing it to the Government.

I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing forward this important debate—I also thank the hon. Member for Strangford for his contribution—and for drawing my attention to the Onward report, which I am interested in reading once it has been published. I certainly welcome the opportunity—assuming I stay in post—to have further conversations with my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Strangford on the future of Barry and Wales as a whole and, of course, of Strangford and Northern Ireland as a whole too.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.