Councils under fire for passing up £80m potential 'levelling-up' cash

Shopping in Diss
Photo: Bill Smith

Shoppers in Diss, south Norfolk. A potential £80m of investment could have been bid for by Broadland and South Norfolk councils, to regenerate high streets and improve cultural assets. - Credit: Archant © 2010

Two Norfolk councils are facing criticism after passing up the opportunity to apply for £80m of investment to ‘level up’ their communities.

South Norfolk and Broadland councils both opted not to put in bids for money from the government's Levelling Up fund, which pays for projects like new leisure centres, art galleries and theatres.

Both councils are allowed to make two applications for up to £20m each, to fund local schemes.

Conservative-run South Norfolk and Broadland are understood to be the only councils in Norfolk to decline the opportunity to apply for the cash, saying they did not believe they would be a 'priority' for the funding.

But the decision has been criticised by opposition councillors at both authorities, who say the money could have funded crucial schemes in their areas.

Sue Holland, the Liberal Democrat leader at Broadland, said it was “an opportunity missed”.

"We should be putting in a bid, because if you don’t ever bid for something, you don’t get something, do you?”

Sue Holland

Broadland District Council's Liberal Democrat opposition leader Sue Holand - Credit: Sue Holland

Most Read

“South Norfolk have their own leisure centres, west Norfolk do, north Norfolk do, and it seems to me that we are different in that respect,” she said. 

“I would have preferred to see us putting those things in place."

Chris Brown, Lib Dem leader at South Norfolk, added: "There's lots of needs within south Norfolk for our market towns, for our leisure facilities and for community transport.

"It's a shame that the council hasn't been able to put together a bid for some projects to support our local facilities."

Chris Brown, the Liberal Democrat candidate for South Norfolk in the 2017 general election. Picture:

South Norfolk Council's Liberal Democrat opposition leader Chris Brown - Credit: Archant

A spokesman for Broadland and South Norfolk councils - which share many back-office facilities and are to move into a joint HQ near Norwich - said the authorities had made the decision as neither area had been identified as a 'priority 1' area for the money.

“In total, 69pc of the Levelling Up Fund first round funding was distributed to Levelling Up Fund 'priority 1' areas.

“Not being a priority area doesn't preclude an application but what we continue to do is direct our resources at those funding streams where we have been historically successful.”

He pointed to £26.2m of government funding attracted for the Long Stratton bypass project as one among several examples of grants awarded to the two districts.

South Norfolk is a 'priority 2' area - like Norwich and Breckland, which are both submitting bids. Broadland is a 'priority 3' area.

Among the 'levelling up' projects other Norfolk councils are pursuing are a new swimming pool in Hunstanton (West Norfolk Council) and a city centre regeneration project (Norwich City Council).


WHAT COULD THEY HAVE BID FOR?

Bids across the two districts could have ranged from improvements to the towns’ high streets to developing the areas’ tourist attractions.

In Broadland, the Aylsham Roman Project has been working to explore and preserve the history of the Roman settlement uncovered at Woodgate Nursery.

A £20m bid could have been used to build a small museum on the site to showcase the area’s archaeological finds.

In Sprowston, works could have been undertaken to create a more cohesive, pedestrian-friendly centre for the suburb, with space for people to congregate and host events.

In Diss, south Norfolk, improvements could have been made to the town’s Corn Hall arts venue, as well as to the high street, which, like several other market towns, has a number of empty shops.

And in Wymondham, some money could have been applied for to refurbish the local heritage museum, a non-profit organisation for which ticket revenue alone does not cover the cost of its maintenance.