Towns Fund

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:49 pm on 4th February 2021.

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Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 4:49 pm, 4th February 2021

I ask the hon. Lady to check the facts. The majority of these town deals are in Opposition-held council areas.

I was delighted to hear Mary Kelly Foy open her speech by saying that no Labour MP will oppose more funding for local government, because she will have the opportunity shortly to vote for a local government finance settlement that will increase councils’ core spending power by 4.5%—a real-terms increase.

Jim Shannon asked about funding for Northern Ireland and how the Department for International Trade’s high potential opportunities programme is supporting investment across the UK. I can confirm that DIT announced in October the second round of successful bids, with 19 new projects selected, and it is currently working with Invest Northern Ireland to explore even more investment opportunities. I am sure that colleagues in the Department for International Trade will be happy to pick that up with him.

In the face of this relentless negativity from the Labour party, in October last year we announced the first seven towns to have gone through the assessment process and have their plans approved. Among them was Peterborough. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough worked closely with the town deal board and helped to develop the ambitious investment plan. I am delighted that it was offered £22.9 million in October. That funding will help to deliver a new enterprise hub to support entrepreneurs and inward investment. It will support healthy lifestyles by making it easier to walk and cycle, and it will further Peterborough’s ambitions for low-carbon living. I thank my hon. Friend and his town board for all their support and help in making this happen.

I also thank my hon. Friend Scott Benton for his remarks this afternoon. It is in large part down to his hard work, alongside that of the town deal board, that Blackpool will receive £39.5 million. This substantial investment reflects the exceptional nature of Blackpool’s proposals and the national significance of what they are planning. We think investing in this iconic British seaside resort has benefits that will reach way beyond the boundaries of the town. The plans include making Blackpool’s famous illuminations even more impressive so that they can attract visitors right around the year and have a huge impact on tourism in the town.

My hon. Friend Andrew Percy raised his ambitions for the Goole to Leeds rail link and asked whether we could retain some flexibility in delivering the fund to support places requesting revenue funding as part of the deal. I would say to him that the towns fund criteria are broadly drawn, and intentionally so, to ensure that we give towns as much flexibility as possible to determine their own priorities. It is right that the towns fund is principally about capital investments, but we recognise that in some towns there might be a particular need for an amount of revenue funding, perhaps to support the implementation of a capital project, so we absolutely agree with that.

My right hon. Friend Robert Halfon talked passionately about his town investment plan, which we received in late October last year. I can assure him that the assessment process is under way and my officials are looking at the details of the plan. I agree with him that it provides the opportunity for Harlow to determine its own future, and I will certainly join him in thanking the Harlow growth board, the chief executive of the council and all the officers who have worked on the bid.

Alongside town deals, we are also investing directly in the high streets that are at the heart of so many of our communities. Too many high streets have seen considerable decline in the past decades, and those challenges have been exacerbated over the last year by covid-19. That is why, on Boxing day, we announced the winners of our future high streets competition, committing up to £830 million to 72 places in England and giving a major boost to local high streets and the many jobs and livelihoods that depend on them.

That investment includes over £11 million for Blyth, which was raised in the debate by my hon. Friend Ian Levy. This will deliver important new cultural and educational facilities and bring vibrancy to the town centre. The investment also includes nearly £18 million for Worcester city centre, which will benefit from the renovation of the popular theatre and the Corn Exchange, and £25 million for Swindon to modernise its town centre. Some £107 million from the future high streets fund has also been allocated to support the regeneration of heritage high streets, and we are doing everything possible to help high streets to survive, adapt and thrive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough also talked about the need to do more and go further, and he was right to do so, because there is of course more investment to come. At the spending review, we announced the levelling up fund, worth £4 billion, and that will bring infrastructure investment—