Levelling Up Fund: Tipton and Wednesbury

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 15th March 2023.

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Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West 4:00 pm, 15th March 2023

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and to you, Ms Elliott, for your indulgence. The point my right hon. Friend makes is that we cannot take the levelling-up fund on its own. As I say, it forms part of a much wider patchwork of particularly capital investment into our area. She rightly references her active campaign to keep the Aldridge train station open. I have no doubt whatever, given her other successes such as the redevelopment of Ravens Court in Brownhills, that she will succeed. She has a record of delivery and a promise of more, as I am sure we have all seen on election leaflets.

I turn back to the importance of the levelling-up fund for Tipton and Wednesbury. The point about it being part of a broader patchwork is demonstrated. My local authority has been successful in securing other funding, such as £67 million from the towns fund. I secured £80,000 for flood defence in Tipton, £50,000 to deal with congestion on the A461 Black Country New Road, and £3 million for Wednesbury town centre as part of the heritage action zones. That all forms part of that tapestry with the levelling-up fund.

I say to the Minister that when we look at the levelling-up fund, and I know this was the case in the applications that went through, what I have mentioned should be considered as part of that process, but should not be to its detriment. I appreciate that with a lot of these bids there is a difficult balancing act. I know from interactions I have had with the Department that there has to be a balance between how we divvy out that part of the levelling-up fund, accepting that if areas have had significant funding, it can be difficult to give more and more when other areas have not had it. On Tipton and Wednesbury and the development in Tipton that was part of the recent bid, accepting the broader strategy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East alluded to, is important.

I turn to the specific bid for Tipton. In round 1 of the levelling-up fund, Sandwell Council—for some reason unbeknownst to anyone with logic—did not decide to submit a bid, but in round 2 we did. It had a focus on Tipton town centre. The rationale was based on the fact that Tipton town centre—Owen Street—was Tipton’s beating heart. Tipton itself is a post-industrial town that still has a strong sense of community, and that has been its historical centre. The bid itself looked at a variety of different ways to level up the town centre, whether through regenerating commercial and residential premises or ensuring we had a residential offering in town centres. We have talked a lot in this place about the balance between residential and commercial and how we can reinvigorate our town centres through a residential offering, and that was a key part of the submitted bid as well.

Broadly speaking, my view at the time was that it felt like a good strategic fit for the town. It respected the history of the area and fitted very much with the aims of the Government through the programme, ensuring the balance between commercial use and that we can truly see a return for the community on the investment put into these areas, and also complementing existing investment. I give Sandwell Council its dues—its engagement with me as part of that process was consistent and good, particularly given our recent challenges as a local authority with the introduction of commissioners at the council and a rejig of our senior leadership team. We could see how the changes from the fund could have an impact.

In winding up my remarks, I say to the Minister that the levelling-up fund presented a great opportunity. I was pleased by the Chancellor’s announcement today that we will hopefully now see some investment in Tipton. We must ensure we continue to press forward this levelling-up agenda; it is part of a broader tapestry of work. I thank the Minister for the work she does in this space and for continuing the engagement to ensure we truly maximise this and tackle the acute problems I addressed at the start of my comments.