Weston 'desperately needs' £20million 'levelling up' bid to succeed
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Weston could be in line for up to £20million from the Government’s levelling up fund to kickstart investment in the Tropicana and other key projects.
After missing out on the first round of funding, a cross-party effort is making the case for the town, saying despite having affluent neighbours, some wards are among the most deprived in the country.
Along with the rest of North Somerset, Weston has been placed in the second of three tiers, but local government minister Luke Hall said that was not the only factor the government would take into account.
North Somerset Council deputy leader Mike Bell said: “We’re really pleased and grateful to have the support of a lot of community organisations and businesses, but also North Somerset’s two MPs, because so far we haven’t done well getting government grants.
“It’s really critical we get some support through the levelling up fund. We need that big capital investment – we’re talking about up to £20million of investment in key projects.
“The focus is firmly on the town centre.
“We want to drive forward the change we need to turn the Tropicana into a long-term successful cultural space and venue for big events for Weston.
“We’re looking at some projects linked to the Sovereign Shopping Centre and our wider high street area so we can attract more people and a diverse mix of businesses and visitors.
“We’re looking at linking some of these projects together so it’s easier for people to get around the town centre and access the many facilities and businesses we’ve got.
“There are loads of ideas – what we need is the government to step up and give us some of the funding we need to make it happen.”
The £4.8billion Levelling Up Fund is open to every local area but is especially intended to support investment in places where it can make the biggest difference to everyday life, including ex-industrial areas, deprived towns and coastal communities.
North Somerset Council leader Don Davis said: “We need to attract that funding to Weston. With its deprivation levels it ticks all the boxes.
“We will be desperately disappointed if we’re unsuccessful and will be holding our MPs’ feet to the fire in terms of delivering this bid.
“We’re envisaging it will be successful.”
Speaking in the House of Commons on June 23, Weston MP John Penrose said the town’s central and south wards are among the most deprived in the country but by an “accident of postcode” it was not in the list of top priority areas because there are more affluent wards nearby.
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He said: "Although other parts of North Somerset don’t need regeneration, there are parts of Weston that are in the most deprived two-three per cent of the country. I called this debate to make the point that we ought to be at the front of the queue for levelling up and regeneration funding, and to push ministers on how our bid should be given top priority as a result."
North Somerset MP Liam Fox said his constituents had higher incomes, better jobs and were healthier.
“Just because someone lives in a relatively poor part of a wealthy area, they must not be disregarded,” he said.
“We are completely as one – including our council, whose leadership does not share our political views – in believing that this would benefit all of the people in North Somerset, whether they be direct recipients of the money or indirect recipients of the benefits it would achieve.”
Mr Hall said the bid was a good fit for the fund and being in the second tier was not the only factor that would be taken into account.
Speaking after the debate, Mr Penrose said: "The good news is that the minister listened and confirmed that North Somerset Council's bid will not be ignored because of North Somerset's priority rating. I hope the debate has put our bid firmly onto his radar."