Preston 'at risk of losing £20m in levelling up cash', ex-councillor claims

Preston City Council has defended “not rushing” into making a bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund after a former councillor accused the authority of risking not getting anything at all from the regeneration programme.

By Paul Faulkner
Saturday, 30th October 2021, 3:42 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th October 2021, 3:46 pm

The government this week announced the areas and projects to benefit from the first £1.7bn allocation of cash from a £4.8bn pot designed to reduce inequalities between different parts of the UK.

Preston was not among the authorities to submit a first-round bid to the fund and has indicated that it will probably make a pitch during the next window for applications.

However, former Conservative city councillor Daniel Dewhurst claims that the town hall’s strategy is jeopardising the city’s chances of receiving the £20m that could be on offer to it.

Preston City Council says it was right not to rush in bidding for levelling up cash (image: Google)

Mr. Dewhurst – who has been pressing his former authority to use the Levelling Up Fund to secure the cash needed to replace or repair the closed Old Tram Bridge connecting Avenham Park and Penwortham – says that access to the pot is not “a foregone conclusion”.

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“Preston needed to submit an application at the earliest opportunity if it were to maximise this opportunity.

“Sadly, with one round having already passed, and the second round fast approaching with no submission prepared, it now appears that the council may have to battle with authorities up and down the country in round three if it is to be successful.

Preston's Old Tram Bridge has been shut since February 2019 and was specially lit up last month as part of a campaign to save it (image: CDS events)

“That will be a tall ask and could see our city not receive the maximum amount of funding available – and the Old Tram Bridge not be repaired or rebuilt.

“Many residents will question why, almost one year after the Levelling Up Fund was first announced, Preston City Council cannot identify specific projects. They will question, too, why this council is leaving any submission to the eleventh hour when the government has insisted on projects being delivered by 2024.

“No-one wants to see a bid submitted carelessly – but we don’t want one submitted in panic, either,” added Mr. Dewhurst, who called for a “greater sense of urgency”.

However, the city council says that it is “likely” that the authority will be ready to make a round two bid when the time comes – and that a report setting out how the council will consult upon and consider potential schemes will be considered by cabinet members “in due course”.

Councillor David Borrow, cabinet member for planning and regulation, says that the strike rate of the round one proposals shows that Preston was wise to wait.

“Ninety-four out of 293 bids were successful, a success rate of 32 percent. I think that shows that the council was sensible in not rushing into making a bid in round one.

“Careful consideration needs to be given to choose the right bid, to make sure that it has a good chance of success, as well as fitting in with the priorities of the council and the city’s investment plan.

“Submitted projects need to be sufficiently developed, in line with treasury standard business cases,” Cllr Borrow said.

He also reiterated comments made by council leader Matthew Brown in August that the Old Tram Bridge is not the only potential Levelling Up scheme on the table for the city..

“As this funding can be utilised for a range of projects it is important that we consider the different priorities and schemes for Preston, including high street regeneration, local transport and health projects that could all benefit from this funding.

“We acknowledge and understand there is a strong local interest in the Old Tram Bridge, but also recognise that the necessary works it requires includes significant investment which will need to be considered against other priorities in the city.”

It is estimated that a replacement for the Old Tram Bridge would cost around £6m.

District councils like Preston can bid for a total of £20m from the Levelling Up Fund, with any award able to be split across a package of linked projects.