I welcome this debate and thank my hon. Friend Paul Bristow and the Government for supporting the town fund and Harlow. Harlow has been my home for 20 years. It is a town of achievement, aspiration, community and opportunity. Although Harlow may not yet have enormous reserves of economic capital, it has enough social and cultural capital to fill any vault in any bank.
I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Government for the recent investments in our town. Harlow has received £50 million for the M11 junction 7A, hundreds of millions for our new Harlow hospital, and major investment for our enterprise zone. I am proud to note that Harlow College is one of the finest colleges in the country, and Harlow is on its way to becoming the skills capital of the east of England, following a recent £3 million upgrade for T-level delivery and the construction of the £12 million advanced manufacturing centre. I welcome the fact that the Government have already committed £300 million to the creation of Public Health England’s science campus in Harlow, in anticipation of PHE’s expected move. I look forward to the Government confirming the funding for the project in the next spending statement.
Despite all that, Harlow remains the second most-deprived area in Essex. It is essential that that is recognised in the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Part of the town centre is in a real state of disrepair, plagued by antisocial behaviour. Our neighbourhood centres are in desperate need of regeneration. Harlow’s towns fund bid sets out to remedy such problems and address the challenges posed by ageing infrastructure, through town centre improvements; the redevelopment of Staple Tye neighbourhood centre; measures to increase connectivity at the enterprise zone; and investment in a new institute of technology.
Sadly, we lost out on £10.4 million from the future high streets fund because the Government procurement letter stated that Harlow Council’s bid
“did not meet stringent criteria on value for money for the taxpayer”.
The towns fund bid is a chance to make up for that loss. It will be the thread that ties together all the Government’s recent investments in Harlow. The town centre must be fit for purpose to support economic growth and social capital and make Harlow a place that offers community, security and prosperity for all our citizens—a town that aspirational people want to move to and live in.
I give special thanks to the Minister, who is responsible for the towns fund, all members of the Harlow growth board, the chief executive of Harlow Council and the senior officers who are working day and night to make sure the bid succeeds. I hope that, this time, our bid will be a success and our town will get the much needed funding that it deserves.