I have long believed in local government, and I hope that we can come to understand devolution as not merely meaning local administration—being given permission by the centre—and instead move towards local politicians being accountable to the electorate for the decisions they take locally, rather than to Whitehall to the current extent.
People often reference Lord Heseltine when it comes to localism, but I was always concerned that that vision had too much in it of local leaders coming down to London and essentially pleading with Ministers for funding. Ministers and civil servants cannot know the situation as well as those elected to represent their town. The devolution all-party parliamentary group, which I chair, has carried out a detailed inquiry into the importance of devolution, to be published fairly soon. Regeneration policy is a key part of it, and the report suggests a way forward for devolution and highlights some areas of blockage in the process that central Government may have inadvertently caused over many Administrations. However, those are thoughts for the future, and they do not mean for a split second within our current way of working that towns fund announcements by the Government are not welcome. It is the absolute opposite.
Having been the founder of an LEP, a county councillor, and even an MEP focused on regional development, I commend the vision and determination of those supporting regeneration in Northampton, both nationally and locally. We stand on the shoulders of some forceful advocates, like my friend and predecessor the late Brian Binley, but even so Northampton has suffered from a lack of investment in recent years. That is why the announcement of Northampton Forward’s successful bid for over £8 million from the future high streets fund and the proposed towns fund bid, which is currently under review, are so vital.
Being on the board throughout the process, I know how hard the team has endeavoured to create innovative proposals, and I am particularly looking forward to seeing the regeneration of the former M&S building into a multi-use facility and the creation of a cultural hub and arts facilities to be used by NN Contemporary Art on Guildhall Road. I cannot sum up Northampton’s case for regeneration funding better than Martin Mason, managing director of Tricker’s, who recently said:
“As the largest town in England, and the home of Tricker’s shoes, Northampton comes not only with its wealth of footwear history, but falls within the Oxford-Cambridge arc—an area linking the two cities together—a key focus of investment and regeneration by the UK government. The recently published Town Investment plan shows exactly why Northampton has the potential to be a vibrant and welcoming town centre for business, residents and visitors alike.”