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Wythenshawe and Sale Town Centres: Regeneration

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 2 May 2023

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Steve Double.)

I am grateful to have secured this Adjournment debate on Wythenshawe and Sale town centres. Town centres are the heart and soul of our communities. They are places where people come together to shop, to eat, to drink and to socialise. They are centres of trade and business. They provide jobs, skills and opportunities. They are the backbone of local economies. Over time, they have experienced periods of boom and bust. Each has its own unique history and identity, and I am sure that they are sources of local pride for every MP in the Chamber. But, sadly, over recent years they have faced many challenges including under-investment, changing retail and leisure demands, covid-19 and, now, the cost of living crisis.

I would like to use this Adjournment debate as an opportunity to pay tribute to the two town centres in my constituency—Wythenshawe and Sale—and highlight their important economic and social roles. I will also highlight the challenges and opportunities that they face and ask the Government what plans they have to support them. Too often, we hear this Government pay lip service to levelling up, the woes of left-behind people and places, and the importance of economic growth. Tonight, I want to talk about the reality of levelling up, and what levelling up actually means, or should mean, to places like Wythenshawe and Sale, and to people like me who grew up and live in a so-called left-behind town.

I am a lucky MP. I get to represent the constituency that includes not only the town where I grew up and still live, but two brilliant town centres: Wythenshawe and Sale. Both have the benefit of Greater Manchester’s Metrolink, which connects them to the rest of the conurbation.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. In Stockport, we have been campaigning for a long time for an extension of the Metrolink tram system into our town centre to increase footfall and trade in the town centre. I raised the matter with the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who assured me that he would study the plans with care, but I never heard back from him. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest issues facing northern towns is the lack of ambition and investment from this Conservative Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He should be proud of his work in Stockport to regenerate the town. There is nothing quite like “Foodie Friday”, which attracts independent retailers and thousands of people, but we know that the cream on the cake for Stockport would be extending the Metrolink to the town centre. I fully back his campaign, even if the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has not got back to him yet.

Wythenshawe, designed by the visionary architect Barry Parker, with the support of Ernest and Shena Simon, once led the way as a suburban utopia. In 1930, their garden city vision saw tens of thousands of families from Manchester’s inner-city slums moved to well-built, spacious neighbourhoods and green surroundings. That saw Wythenshawe transformed from a handful of small villages at the turn of the 20th century to a settlement of 100,000 people by the 1960s. In December last year, I hosted the “Who Built Wythenshawe?” exhibition with Professor Michael Wood, a famous former resident, and the Town and Country Planning Association here in Westminster, showcasing Wythenshawe’s garden city heritage.

The current site of Wythenshawe town centre, or the Civic, as it is known locally, started life as a shopping centre in 1963, with Wythenshawe Forum—one of Manchester’s largest buildings at the time—and a swimming pool, theatre and public hall added later. I would visit the Civic most weekends growing up, shopping at the market, visiting the Forum theatre and, yes, having many of my first dates there as well. Today, it still attracts over 5 million visitors a year and sits at the heart of a community of over 100,000 people. Like many towns, Wythenshawe faces some challenges, with increased costs for businesses and changing retail and leisure demands, but with the right investment it has so much potential.

Sale, a former market town that grew on the back of the Bridgewater canal, which brought coal to fire the industrial revolution, has also experienced challenging times, but it has an exciting future. It was recently voted the fourth best town in England to live in. It has strong transport links and housing stock and great schools, including the one at which I had the pleasure of teaching for the best part of a decade. Recent regeneration by Trafford Council is seeing independent businesses return to the town centre, but more investment could take the transformation to the next level, attracting more businesses and creating jobs.

In the Summer of 2022, recognising the need to rejuvenate these town centres, Manchester City Council and Trafford Council, under the leadership of my friend the former Member for Stretford and Urmston, submitted bids to the levelling-up fund. The plan to redevelop Wythenshawe town centre offered a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the Civic with a new public square, food hall, community cinema and 1,500 low-carbon homes.

Manchester City Council bought out the lease on the shopping centre to help control, steer and accelerate that investment. It put its money where its mouth is. The plans for Sale town centre included a wholesale transformation of the public realm and highways, to improve active travel for all and support the regeneration of Stanley Square. I pay tribute to Altered Space for the private sector investment that has so fundamentally altered the precinct in Sale and brought about so much regeneration.

To ensure that the plans were fit for purpose and had the support of the local community, Trafford Council funded the refresh of the Sale public realm strategy, which set out and delivered a costed plan to inform the bid. The transformational potential of the plans and the golden opportunity for regeneration that they provide must not be underestimated, especially in a constituency where 41.3% of neighbourhoods rank in the highest category of deprivation. The plans were serious about levelling up.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: not only was I the leader of Trafford Council when the bids were submitted, as my hon. Friend said, but I have the great honour—at least until Thursday—of representing Sale town centre on Trafford Council.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about the diligence and care that were put into both levelling-up bids, which is replicated in bids up and down the country. Does he agree that that time, energy and endeavour did, in many cases, go to waste, as a result of a brutal bidding process that pitted town centres and local authorities against each other? Does he agree that such a system should not be used again, and should instead be replaced by a system in which funding allocations are made on the basis of need?

I will miss my hon. Friend as one of my councillors after Thursday, but I welcome him to these Benches. Under his extraordinary leadership, Trafford went from strength to strength. He took control away from the Conservative party in Trafford and started to build a sense of place. The plans for Stretford in the civic quarter, what we have done in Altrincham and what we hope to bring to Sale were the direct result of his leadership. I am grateful.

Both bids underwent a rigorous drafting process and extensive consultation, with strong local support. Careful consideration of the plans, which strongly reflect local need, could deliver so much more than shiny new buildings and superficial facelifts. They would attract new business, creating new jobs. Disappointingly, despite two strong bids and high hopes from local leaders, the Government did not match our ambition for Wythenshawe and Sale town centres. Both bids were rejected.

Tonight, I would like to hear from the Minister directly why the bids were rejected. I am not going anywhere. I will raise this at every opportunity, from now until kingdom come, to make sure that we make progress in the town centres in my constituency, of which I am extraordinarily proud. Why were the bids left out of a fund to support economic recovery and growth in the poorest parts of Britain? Why did the same fund that rejected the bids award £19 million to the Prime Minister’s own wealthy constituency? My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western) is right; some sort of “Hunger Games” of bidding seems to have taken place.

The truth is that the fund, just like the Government, is not serious. Around 70% of levelling-up funding has been pledged to constituencies in England that have a Conservative MP. How does that happen? Analysis shows that Tory-held seats received around £19 more per head than those in similarly deprived non-Conservative constituencies. We already knew that the Government were not serious about it—they have a track record. The Government have been in power for 13 years, and the levelling-up agenda has not cut the mustard with the British public.

A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research says that the north is being held back by “vast inequalities” and “systematic underinvestment” in research and development, social infrastructure and transport. What have this Government done to correct that? What have they done on R&D investment? Some 46% of R&D investment—vital for business innovation, jobs and skills—still goes to London, the east and south-east, despite those areas representing around only a fifth of the population.

What have this Government done to boost transport and connectivity in the north, in order to improve the vibrancy of our towns? HS2, which would have come to the borough of Trafford, has been put on ice. It would have reduced journey times from Manchester airport, in my constituency, to London Euston from two hours and 24 minutes, as they are currently, to 59 minutes. HS2 from Old Oak Common to Birmingham has now been shelved. The paucity of ambition to connect up this country is palpable. On Northern Powerhouse Rail, we cannot get TransPennine and other routes into Manchester airport. Some 20% to 30% of services to Manchester airport, one of the biggest economic drivers in the region, are regularly cut.

And it gets worse. What have this Government done to support local councils to deliver the frontline services that our communities rely on to function efficiently? Following the 2008 financial crash, rather than support the most vulnerable, there were politically motivated cuts. Manchester City Council, ranked the sixth most deprived local authority in England, has had to make £428 million of savings, while Trafford Council has had to take more than £260 million from its budget. We have seen the devastating reality of those cruel cuts.

As disappointed as I was by the Government’s decision to reject the two perfectly solid bids for levelling-up funding, which denied Wythenshawe and Sale town centres £40 million of investment, sadly I was not surprised. While this Government may not be serious about levelling up, local leaders are. Despite the lack of funding from Government, I am pleased to say that plans for both town centres will go ahead.

Manchester’s Labour council is delivering for Wythenshawe with new homes, cultural and leisure spaces, job opportunities, green infrastructure investment and better walking and cycling links. Likewise, Labour-run Trafford Council is pressing ahead with its transformation of Sale town centre, with solid backing from the private sector. The transformation around Stanley Square has been truly incredible, creating a modern and vibrant district that is home to new independent retailers, cafés, restaurants and bars. Both councils have my full support and I pledge to continue to do all I can, as the Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale East, to deliver investment and economic opportunities for our towns and our people.

Labour is serious about levelling up. We care about our town centres and we understand what communities need, because we are those communities. Despite all the funding cuts and lack of support from the Government, and the crushing blows that were delivered when we did not receive our levelling-up funds, we are already delivering. Will the Minister tell me what the Government will pledge to deliver for Wythenshawe, Sale and other towns like them across Britain? Are the Government finally ready to get serious about levelling up?

I sincerely thank the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) for securing this important debate and for speaking so powerfully on behalf of his constituents and his constituency. I know he has been, and remains, a tireless champion of the people and businesses of Greater Manchester more broadly, as has been exemplified by his service as a local councillor and portfolio holder, in a past life, and by his time as a Member of Parliament in this place.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the points he raised. One particular sentence stuck with me: he said that town centres are the heart and soul of our communities. On that point, I could not agree more. I saw that in my own constituency this weekend, at the Bishop Auckland street-food market. I definitely need to visit Stockport on Foodie Friday, as that sounds right up my street.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting some of the persistent economic and social challenges facing his Wythenshawe and Sale East constituency, and the deep-rooted disparities between communities, with parts of Wythenshawe that are highly disadvantaged starkly contrasting with areas in Sale that are much more prosperous. That is born out in the data in the indices of multiple deprivation, which ranks the constituency as the 53rd most deprived in England, with unemployment more than double the English average.

It is fair to say that communities in the hon. Member’s constituency stand to benefit the most from the Government’s levelling-up agenda and our ambition to close the regional disparities in health, education and attainment that are holding communities back. We have made some real strides in that endeavour in recent years.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned unsuccessful bids, and I will say something about that shortly, but I think it worth noting that Trafford Borough Council was successful in the most recent round of the levelling-up fund. It is set to receive more than £80 million for regeneration of the Partington sports village, with new changing rooms and a new BMX track at the park in Cross Lane. That will mean a big improvement in the health and leisure offer for local residents, encouraging more people to take part in sporting and leisure activities. It is complemented by the £85,000 grant from our levelling up parks fund for Southwick Road Park in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I know that several committed local residents have long been calling for that investment.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about his council’s unsuccessful applications to the levelling-up fund, specifically the regeneration bids for Wythenshawe and Sale town centres. I fully appreciate that everyone involved in preparing and submitting those bids will have been deeply disappointed by the result. We certainly do not underestimate the time, care, attention and, indeed, heart that council officers and members put into the work. I shall say more about that shortly as well, but I know the hon. Gentleman was one of the strongest backers for those bids as well.

It must be said that the response to round 2 of the fund was overwhelming. More than 500 bids were received from all over the UK, totalling over £8 billion, but we had £3.1 billion to allocate, which meant that, unfortunately, some difficult decisions had to be made. It is also worth noting that although this is the—in capital letters— LUF, it is not the only—small “l”, small “u”—levelling-up funding that the Government have provided. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific applications, but I know that officials in my Department have now given detailed feedback on unsuccessful bids, and I shall be happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman to discuss that further following the debate.

As for how the applications were judged, we have published an account of this and are entirely transparent about it, but I will run through it once more for the benefit of the House. As in the first round, our funding was targeted at the areas most in need according to the index of priority places. The index takes account of the need to address issues such as under-regeneration, low productivity and poor connectivity, and each bid was assessed by the officials from the Department against the published assessment criteria. Our officials then came up with a shortlist based on the highest scores. To ensure that we had a fair spread of bids across the UK, Ministers then made funding decisions based on the assessment score, but also taking into account factors such as geographic spread and past investments. However, an area’s relative need is baked into the process as well. In this round, 66% of investments went to category 1 places.

The second round of funding is going predominantly to areas in Great Britain that have not received funding before, in order to ensure that investment reaches as many places as possible across rounds 1 and 2. However—I must highlight this point—there will be a third round, and we should not lose sight of that. We will give further details in due course, and I will of course make sure that the hon. Gentleman is informed. We want to support as many areas as possible with this truly transformative funding.

As I have said, however, the levelling-up fund is not the only means of levelling up investment in Greater Manchester by my Department. The hon. Gentleman will know that in his neighbouring constituency, Stretford town centre has benefited from £17.6 million from our future high streets fund—real investment to transform Stretford Mall and the surrounding town centre, with spaces for open-air markets and a host of new cultural events that will indeed be genuinely transformative. Local people will benefit from the new high-quality and affordable housing in the town centre, increasing pride in the place and fostering a sense of community.

Greater Manchester more broadly has benefited greatly from some game-changing pots of money from central Government in recent years, in support of our shared levelling-up ambitions. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the combined authority was awarded £54.2 million from our Getting Building fund to deliver seven major capital work projects across the city region, including 7 acres of landscaped public park near Piccadilly Station, the new Manchester innovation activities hub, and a vocational training centre dedicated to the rapid upskilling, reskilling and retraining of local residents. Moreover, £150,000 from the Department’s community ownership fund has been awarded to Healthy Me Healthy Communities, a social enterprise group in Gorton. That will secure a community facility for the charity to tackle food poverty, helping those who are struggling to find jobs to gain new skills, as well as giving budget advice and support to those on low incomes.

Despite the investments that we have made, I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s principal point that, more broadly, we need to reform the way that we support our people and places by moving away from the model of councils bidding into loads of separate pots of money and all the form-filling and hoop-jumping that goes with that. That point was very well made by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Andrew Western).

On that point, could the Minister tell us exactly how much money was spent by local authorities on pulling these bids together?

That information is held by the authorities, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman with some further information following this debate.

We want to move away from those bidding pots to pursue a more sustainable, longer-term solution—in other words, one single settlement not a million miles away from the ones enjoyed by Scotland and Wales—to allow authorities such as Greater Manchester to really push the boundaries of levelling up in education, skills and innovation and to pursue on their own terms projects such as the regeneration of Wythenshawe and Sale, working hand in hand with local businesses and communities. Since first getting involved in politics, I have said that local people know best what is right for them, rather than us sitting here in Westminster and Whitehall, so we really are putting our money where our mouth is on this, through our radical devolution agenda.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East will know that we took a big step towards that goal earlier this year when we agreed a trailblazer devolution deal worth billions of pounds with Greater Manchester. It hands unprecedented powers, money and control to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority so that it can realise its ambition of creating a fully connected London-style transport system by the end of this decade as well as delivering the UK’s first integrated technical education system. On the transport point, putting power into local hands means giving Andy Burnham more control over things such as the Metro, so it will definitely be worth badgering Andy about the extension of the Metrolink. I am happy to sit down and discuss this with the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), and I can only apologise that the former Prime Minister did not get back to him. I will certainly meet him to discuss this a bit more formally.

On transport, I am also incredibly pleased about the £84 million package from central Government to Greater Manchester to increase the reliability of trains through Greater Manchester in the Manchester recovery taskforce. We still have a way to go to get those trains up to scratch but central Government working hand in hand with local government through the GMCA are absolutely doing the right things. For the Government’s part, we have made no secret of our ambition to see more areas benefiting from these enhanced freedoms and flexibilities through devolution, and we hope to kick off talks on these D for Devolution arrangements with other Mayors very soon.

I have given a bit of a flavour of what the future holds for Greater Manchester and for the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East’s constituency: more freedoms and more funding to pursue locally led regeneration. In the here and now, I hope that he can rest assured that my Department and I are committed to working with him and with Members all across the House, on both sides, to get more levelling up projects off the ground, whether through the third round of our levelling up fund, through working with the combined authority, as in this case, or through using any of the tools at our disposal to bring real economic benefits to the businesses and communities we represent. This really is our shared ambition and it is what we will deliver in the weeks and months ahead. I am looking forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on this.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.