Towns bid for a share of £80m

By Daniel Mumby   |   Local Democracy Reporter   |
Tuesday 21st June 2022 4:00 pm
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TOWNS and villages across Somerset could receive a share of £80M for new regeneration projects if funding from central government is approved.

Somerset’s four district councils are finalising four bids to the government’s levelling up fund, which could see town centres given a new lease of life and major improvements to local infrastructure.

The councils have already been working on their own regeneration schemes, funded either by other government funding pots or out of their own funds, which are at various stages of progress.

A decision on the levelling up bids is expected in the autumn, with the money having to be spent in full by the end of March 2025.

Here’s everything we know so far about the local bids – including which areas could stand to benefit:

What is the levelling up fund?

The government announced the £4.8bn levelling up fund in the 2021 Budget, with the money being made available in different rounds up to March 2025.

Bids to the levelling up fund have to be done on the basis of parliamentary constituency boundaries, rather than the boundaries of local councils – meaning councils have to work together and share the fruits of any successful bid.

Each successful bid can provide up to £20M for projects – but each MP can only support one bid for their constituency in each round.

Furthermore, different parts of the country are given different priorities for funding, with the intention being that successful bids target the area which most require investment and support.

Which Somerset constituencies are bidding this time around?

There are five parliamentary constituencies within the political county of Somerset – Bridgwater and West Somerset, Somerton and Frome, Taunton Deane, Wells and Yeovil. All five of these seats returned Conservative MPs at the last general election in December 2019. Four of these constituencies are submitting bids this time around.

Each constituency could receive up to £20M – meaning a total of £80M could pour in to Somerset if all four bids are successful.

Small amounts of detail about each bid have been published up to this point, with consultations taking place about potential projects – but the district councils have declined to put any more meat on the bones at this stage.

In a joint statement, they said: “The bids are still under development and so it is not possible to confirm which projects in which locations and to what funding ceiling will be submitted to government.

“The aim with the collaborative bids is to present to government projects that support the criteria set, and allow the funds to be allocated fairly across the current individual district council areas.

“The towns selected are those where significant regeneration is needed to support residents and businesses.”

Here’s a breakdown of what is proposed locally, based on what has been published to date:

Bridgwater and West Somerset

The Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency – represented by Ian Liddell-Grainger since 2001 – covers a large geographical area, from Minehead and the eastern edge of the Exmoor National Park to Bridgwater and the surrounding villages, as well as the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

Bridgwater is already benefiting from regeneration funding, with £22.6M being provided for projects within the town deal and Sedgemoor District Council investing £16M into the Northgate Yard scheme on Mount Street.

You would therefore expect the west Somerset end of the constituency to be the focus this time around – especially given that Watchet was previously identified by the county council as a regeneration priority.

Instead, the bid will focus primarily on Bridgwater – specifically, on providing funding for the tidal barrier and bringing the former community hospital on Salmon Parade back into use as a “health and social care centre of excellence”.

Taunton Deane

The Taunton Deane constituency – represented by Defra minister Rebecca Pow since 2015 – is created around the county town of Taunton, but also includes Wellington, Wiveliscombe and a number of villages at the southern edges of either Exmoor or the Quantock Hills area of outstanding natural beauty.

Taunton has already received £13.9M from the government’s future high street fund, which is being divided between the existing council-led regeneration projects at Firepool and Coal Orchard, as well as being used to deliver better cycling provision across the town.

Somerset West and Taunton Council has released few details of its bid, stating only that it involves “the restoration of Wellington’s heritage and cultural assets”.

This is likely to revolve around Tonedale Mill and the Toneworks complex in the north of the town – which was the subject of an unsuccessful bid in the first round of the levelling up fund.

The council will be hoping for a better outcome this time around – which comes after a separate £5M bid to the government’s cultural development fund for the ‘Creative Tonedale’ programme, more than £300,000 of grants awarded during the pandemic to protect the buildings and efforts to secure the nearby Fox’s Field for the community.

What happens next?

The bids will be submitted to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) by July 6. These will then be scrutinised thoroughly by government officials, with councils finding out in the autumn whether they have been successful.

The councils stated: “The decision from the government regarding these bids is likely to be available in autumn 2022, with work to commence in the current financial year (2022/23) and completion of the projects is required by March 31, 2025.”

With this timeframe, any projects begun by the four districts will come to fruition under the new unitary Somerset Council, which will formally assume power on April 1, 2023.

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