Levelling-up Agenda — [Mrs Maria Miller in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 15th June 2021.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 3:08 pm, 15th June 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Seely on securing the debate.

I am delighted to say I see no conflict between levelling up in Stoke-on-Trent and improving quality of life across the whole country, including the Isle of Wight. There is a clear win-win in relieving housing pressures by levelling up development opportunities in places such as Stoke-on-Trent, which I have discussed previously with my hon. Friend. We have multiple hectares of brownfield land and an eagerness to build, but the clean-up costs for former heavily industrial land are considerable and often unviable in lower priced housing markets. We have a proven track record in Stoke-on-Trent of delivering. Last year, Stoke-on-Trent built more than the average London borough, with 99% on brownfield land. We are one of the busiest housing markets nationally.

I welcome the investment we have seen through the housing infrastructure fund in the north of the city, but we also need similar sites in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South. Will the Minister help us to deliver even more and ensure that we get a good slice of the £100 million brownfield fund?

Of course, people need more than just a good house. They need skilled, well-paid jobs, better transport and an improved quality of life. Levelling up is about all those things. If anywhere in the country reflects the need to level up, it is Stoke-on-Trent. It is 12th highest in proportion of deprived neighbourhoods and, after decades of neglect and decline, it has huge potential just waiting to be unleashed.

We are unparalleled in our friendliness, right at the heart of the UK and now with the best fibre gigabit-connected city in the whole country. I slightly disagree with the previous speaker, Emma Hardy, who said Hull was the best connected. Stoke-on-Trent is now the best connected in terms of fibre broadband connectivity.

We submit our fantastic levelling-up fund bids at the end of this week. We have been working closely with the city council. I hope the Minister will support our plans. It will be particularly important to capitalise on our authentic industrial heritage in the Potteries to create a modern, dynamic and prosperous city. In Longton especially, we must build on the PSICA—partnership schemes in conservation areas—and heritage action zone schemes we secured in partnership with the city council and Historic England, attracting new residential, leisure and employment uses.

Stoke-on-Trent is on the up. It is one of the fastest-growing city economies nationally and is a centre for world-class advanced manufacturing and the digital revolution. We recently launched our Silicon Stoke prospectus, led by my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis, which is about building on the fast-growing cluster of digital firms taking advantage of our investment in gigabit broadband and strengthening what we are seeing at Staffordshire University in games design and e-sports. Attracting these sorts of industries is key to raising aspirations and boosting opportunities locally, as is ensuring that people have the skills to access them, through schemes such as the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee, the kickstart scheme and T-levels. That is especially important in places like Stoke-on-Trent, where high-level skills and wages and far below the national average.

Access to better jobs and opportunities is also critical in a city where a third of households do not even have access to a private car. We need to level back our transport following decades of local bus and rail decline, and I am glad that we are working on just that. Building on the success of the transforming cities fund, we now need to reopen Meir station and the station at Fenton Manor on the line between Stoke and Leek, and we also need to secure important investment from the bus strategy fund.