Blyth, amid a regeneration wave including a cultural hub, is one of the regional winners. Credit: planning documents

Sunak sets out towns focus with Levelling Up decisions

Six North East areas will each receive £20m as the Prime Minister declared that a long-term political focus on cities “changes today”.

As the Conservative Party conference kicked off in Manchester, the government Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities said that people in 55 locations – including Jarrow, Eston, Washington, Blyth, Hartlepool and Spennymoor – will be “given the tools to change their town’s long-term future”.

As spelt out by DLUHC, this means they will:

  • Receive a ten-year £20m endowment-style fund to be spent on local people’s priorities, like regenerating local high streets and town centres or securing public safety.
  • Set up a Town Board to bring together community leaders, employers, local authorities, and the local MP, to deliver a long-term plan for their town and put it to local people for consultation.
  • Use a suite of regeneration powers to unlock more private sector investment by auctioning empty high street shops, reforming licensing rules on shops and restaurants, and supporting more housing in town centres.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “Towns are the place most of us call home and where most of us go to work. But politicians have always taken towns for granted and focused on cities.

“The result is the half-empty high streets, run-down shopping centres and anti-social behaviour that undermine many towns’ prosperity and hold back people’s opportunity – and without a new approach, these problems will only get worse.

“That changes today. Our Long-Term Plan for Towns puts funding in the hands of local people themselves to invest in line with their priorities, over the long-term. That is how we level up.”

Cllr Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said the fnnding would fuel the ongoing Energising Blyth programme, which has seen a serie4s of projects advance.

He said: “This is very welcome news for Blyth. Significant change is already happening to revitalise the town centre and capitalise on the huge potential of our leading clean energy sector with the new Culture Venue and Market Place and Energy Campus already being constructed, our new Welding Centre and works well underway on the Northumberland Line.

“This additional long-term investment from Government means we can go further to transform the town, deliver better homes, improve neighbourhoods and reduce crime in partnership with local businesses, the community and partners.”

A further element of the government’s flagship stated aim of spreading investment more evenly around the country is the Levelling Up Partnerships trailed in the Spring Budget.

Twenty areas will receive £20m each as part of the LUP programme, which the government says will be bespoke investment specific to an area’s economy – Hull, one of the first two areas confirmed this weekend along with Sandwell, will focus on green energy.

Although no North East locations are yet finalised, DLUHC said that  details of partnerships with Redcar & Cleveland and Middlesbrough are progressing.

Blyth had been one of the “deep dive” areas piloted as part of the project by DLUHC.

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