Levelling up bids focus on upgrades to historic venues and ignore county’s left behind communities
Anger and frustration as councils prioritise multi-million pound schemes at established venues such as Delapre Abbey instead of in need communities
By Sarah Ward
Three of the county’s five left behind areas have been ignored in a series of government funding bids which could see millions of pounds pumped into certain projects in the county.
Rather than backing schemes in deprived areas such as Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby, Kettering’s Avondale Grange, or Kings Heath areas in Northampton, the county’s two unitary councils have instead opted to call in consultants to draw up funding bids for projects including some at already established and thriving facilities.
Altogether West and North Northamptonshire unitary councils look likely to go forward with bids for 13 schemes as part of the government’s second round of Levelling Up funding, which is set to see £4.8bn distributed to successful projects across the country before 2025, as part of the government’s drive to make improvements across the country.
The bids which will impact the left behind areas are £3m worth of improvements in certain run down housing areas of the Queensway estate and a £40m leisure upgrade at the Lings Forum in Weston Favell (which is in the Talavera Ward).*
Established projects such as nationally acclaimed skatepark Adrenaline Alley in Corby, Delapre Abbey in Northampton and North Northamptonshire Council’s Chester Farm near Irchester, which have all received millions of pounds in funding in the past, are among the preferred schemes which will go forward for ratification to both of the unitary councils ruling Conservative executives this week.
The news of the projects that are being favoured by the Conservative run councils has been met with disbelief and anger by the Labour opposition groups, who say the funding bids should have been targeted at adding facilities into areas which need them most.
In North Northamptonshire the projects which are likely to go forward to the government for consideration are: a £7.5m new stadium and training centre for Corby skatepark Adrenaline Alley; a £12m active travel link between Corby town centre and the rail station; an active travel link connecting Rushden to Wellingborough; £3.1m improvements to the Kiln and Minerva Way areas in Wellingborough; a new £8.7m Redwell Leisure Centre in Wellingborough; £0.75m improvements at Chester House, and £11m for the Stanton Cross Rail Overbridge.
Many of these projects, such as the active travel schemes, are not new and have been hanging around waiting for funding for a while. The council is bidding for the lion’s share of the Adrenaline Alley and Redwell Leisure Centre projects.
A group of four councillors from the cabinet - Cllr Graham Lawman, Cllr Harriet Pentland, Cllr Helen Howell and Cllr David Brackenbury - decided on the bid in conjunction with senior officers. They looked over 59 different proposals, some of which had been put forward by community organisations and which included projects such as a community hub at Avondale Grange, which would have put much needed investment into the area. (Hear from residents living on Avondale Grange here).
The report which makes recommendations will be voted on at the cabinet meeting on Thursday says:
“Whilst North Northamptonshire is a Priority 1 area, it must compete with all other areas in England for funding and indications are that Round 2 will be massively oversubscribed. It is therefore vital that NNC takes an objective approach and presents a case which has the strongest chance of success. This means prioritising projects which are likely to score best against the Government’s criteria.”
The county’s five left behind areas (read more here) are among 225 which have officially been recognised by the government as ‘left behind’ meaning they have the worst levels of deprivation coupled with a lack of social and community infrastructure.
Leader of the Labour opposition, Cllr John McGhee said he does not agree with an argument put forward by the North council that the money is for large infrastructure projects and therefore should not be used to add new facilities into the left behind areas. According to government guidelines, the focus of the bids should be on the themes of transport, regeneration and cultural investment.
He told NN Journal:
“They keep saying that this money is not about the left behind areas but that is not the case - it should be for them - these are the areas that need investment the most.
“The money that has gone into Chester Farm has been horrendous - it is a vanity project that has cost far more than it ever should have.”
“This is about Conservative idealism rather than them trying to do the right thing.”
He said that while a long time supporter of Adrenaline Alley - a skatepark which is the training venue of recent Olympic medalists - now is not the right time to be funnelling more money into it.
The chair of Adrenaline Alley Andre Gonzalez de Savage is also the new chair of West Northamptonshire Council. It was founded in the 1990s by Corby mum Mandy Young.
“There are more children having free meals than ever before and more families havig to use food banks. As much as I value what Mandy has done (with Adrenaline Alley) now is not the right time (for the stadium) and I hope that Mandy would understand what I’m saying.”
Cllr Zoe McGhee is a Labour councillor and since last autumn has been chairing a task group of the scrutiny commission which has been looking at the three left behind areas in North Northamptonshire. Her group has held meetings across the areas and spoken with residents and community organisations and is to share its findings in a conclusion report later this week.
She has said:
“This is a wasted opportunity. No disrespect to the projects that have been put forward, but this is not about levelling up. They are vanity projects without any real substance.”
In the West a longlist of 39 was whittled down to six after the authority, which is led by Conservative Jonathan Nunn, employed firm Avison Young to help decide which projects met the criteria.
The projects that are likely to go forward for government consideration are: a wellbeing hub at the former Moulton surgery; a new £8m animal welfare building at Moulton College; a new £4.3m cancer support hub at Northampton General; a £41m community hub including leisure services and library and housing at Weston Favell; a £4.8m community wellbeing hub in the stable block of Delapre Abbey and a £15m multi sports facility at the University of Northampton.
Not all of the money will come from the government as most of the projects have other funders to pay towards the cost. The Weston Favell bid to the fund is for £17m and if successful the authority would have to agree to fund the remainder of more than £20m. The bid is for the full £8m cost of the Moulton animal welfare centre and for £11m of the university bid.
The bids must be submitted to the government by July 6 which leaves no time to consider other options. They have not gone before the councils’ scrutiny panels and in the North have not been considered by the executive advisory panels, which meet monthly.
The only time the bids became public was when the council published the agendas last week.
On Thursday the North will also look at the UK Shared prosperity fund. This is another £2.6bn of government funding which will look at tackling levelling up areas. For this local authority’s have to put forward an investment plan and the North has intimated it will focus on the left behind areas when it comes to these bids.
*This article was amended on June 14. The earlier article had incorrectly said the Talavera ward was not being put forward for a levelling up bid.
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