Somerset MP refuses to back 'unimaginative' council funding bid

Election leaflets for Wells' Conservative candidate, James Heappey, detailed how a Tory victory woul

James Heappey MP. - Credit: UK Parliament

A Somerset MP has said he can't back an 'unimaginative' funding bid to help redevelop parts of the county.

The 'Levelling Up' fund bid, jointly created by Mendip and Sedgemoor District Councils to help regenerate Highbridge, Cheddar and Shepton Mallet, is 'unlikely to succeed and will not drive economic growth,' Conservative MP James Heappey said. 

Mr Heappey, whose Wells constituency includes Cheddar and Shepton Mallet, also criticised the two council's for 'ignoring' the advice of the minister in charge of awarding the funds.

He said: "Local residents are already deeply concerned with the way visitors park on residential streets across the village and the erosion being caused by parking on the verges in the Gorge that is damaging our star attraction.

"This bid should have prioritised a parking solution and improvements to the road layout that would have opened the door for huge growth in visitor numbers without causing mayhem on Cheddar’s roads. 

"The Strawberry Line will be a brilliant addition to the economy, but the vast majority of visitors will drive to Cheddar. That’s a reality we can’t wish away and I’m surprised the councils haven’t prioritised it."

James Heappey speaking in the House of Commons.

James Heappey speaking in the House of Commons. - Credit: PA Wires

To improve industry and infrastructure across the UK, the government announced a £4.8billion levelling up fund which council's could bid for.

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In order to be successful, local authorities must have proved it will be used for transport investments, town centre or cultural investment.

Mr Heappey has said he expects his local council's bid will fail due to its 'focus on cosmetic improvements' to the town centres.

He added: "My growing concern is that plans for Highbridge and Shepton would not catalyse growth in the local economy or create more skilled jobs. 

"Increasing tourism in the village is a huge opportunity - Cheddar should be a stepping off point for adventure in the Mendips but the idea that all new visitors will arrive from Bristol, Bath, Weston or Burnham by bus or bike is clearly ridiculous. 

"I cannot back a bid which will cause misery for so many of my constituents. Nor can I back something that we’ve already been told by the minister is unlikely to succeed."

The Wells MP has now written a letter to the leader of Sedgemoor Council to offer his support in 'developing a more strategic bid that genuinely drives economic growth'.