Since its inception in 1999 the Northwest Regional Development Agency has consistently met or exceeded all targets set by the Government. In addition, the Government have allocated £480 million to local authorities in the north-west via the working neighbourhoods fund and the local enterprise growth initiative to enable them to tackle worklessness and support enterprise in deprived areas.
A clear indication of the effectiveness of the Government's plans for regeneration in Blackpool has been the substantial rise-in some instances, 40 per cent.-in the numbers of visitors to the town. Some have come to see the new St. John's square, the Brilliance project and the new promenade taking shape. Will the Minister continue, therefore, to support regeneration projects in Blackpool and the regional development agency's excellent work?
First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all her work on behalf of her constituents in Blackpool? I was glancing through a document on the economic impact of the Northwest Regional Development Agency and noticed that there is a Blackpool masterplan encompassing many of the issues she just mentioned. She is right to say that we need action from the local authority and regional development agency to bring about the kind of economic regeneration to which she referred.
Will the Minister accept that county towns such as Macclesfield could do with assistance from regeneration funds, particularly now when we are seeking to establish in Macclesfield a national silk centre? I hope to meet the chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency shortly. Will the Minister give this project her support?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bring the merits of the silk centre to the attention of the chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency. The hon. Gentleman is making exactly the same point I was making earlier: it is vital to have this kind of strategic assessment of the economic needs of all the region, and I hope that he will put his best efforts into persuading his Front-Bench colleagues that they are wrong to want to abolish the regional development agencies in the way that they have set out.
One of the most important local authority regeneration initiatives is the proposed Mersey gateway bridge, which will provide hundreds of construction jobs and thousands of jobs thereafter. Will my right hon. Friend speak to her opposite number in the Department for Transport to ensure that we get a decision quickly, because the planning inspection decision comes from within that Department? We need a quick decision to get on with the project, create those jobs and sort out the congestion in my constituency.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on this matter. When I was a Transport Minister, I met him and colleagues from the council to discuss the project, and I know how valuable it is to the local economy, so I shall certainly bring his point to the attention of Transport Ministers.