This is why Fylde and Wyre are not part of Lancashire County Council's £50m bid to the Levelling Up Fund

Fylde and Wyre will not form part of Lancashire County Council's bid for £50m from the government's Levelling Up Fund.

Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 9:45 am

County Hall's pitch to the government will instead focus on East Lancashire, which will be in line for a raft of public transport improvements and measures to make cycling and walking more attractive if the authority's forthcoming application is successful.

The county council is in the final stages of drawing up a submission to secure the cash from a nationwide pot which was established to finance projects designed to reduce inequalities between different parts of the country.

If the money comes Lancashire’s way, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle will benefit from schemes which could include offering bus passengers real-time journey information while they are waiting at bus stops and the creation of new cycling routes.

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Lancashire County Council's bid for "levelling up" cash will not feature any projects in Fylde or Wyre, while Blackpool is developing its own pitch to ministers

It comes after the county council decided to focus its application on Lancashire’s eastern boroughs, having whittled down around 600 potential schemes county-wide to select a handful which it hopes have the best chance of winning government support.

District councils such as Fylde and Wyre are able to bid for up to £20m each under the initiative, but as as a transport authority, County Hall is eligible to try for more than twice that amount for a travel-themed bid.

The county council sat out the first opportunity to apply last year, but is now poised to pitch during a second funding window, which closes on 6th July.

The authority says that it has focused its Levelling Up Fund bid on districts in the east of the county, because they are the areas most in need – and so are also the most likely to persuade the government to part with its cash.

County council leader Phillippa Williamson says district leaders were positive about the authority's process for developing a bid to the Levelling Up Fund - even if their own patches did not benefit directly from it

All district and standalone local authorities nationwide have been placed in one of three priority categories which Whitehall says are based on “objective criteria” reflecting differing levels of need in relation to economic recovery and growth, improved transport connectivity and general regeneration

In the county council area, the eastern boroughs are in category 1 – those places deemed to require the greatest support - while Fylde is in the second category and Wyre the third.

While it is possible for any area to scoop cash from the £4.8bn Levelling Up Fund pot, bidding guidance states that it will be targeted towards places ”most in need of the type of investment the fund provides”.

Cabinet member for economic development and growth Aidy Riggott told the meeting at which he and his colleagues approved the outline of the authority’s pitch to the government that East Lancashire contained the areas “most in need of intervention”.

County council leader Phillippa Williamson said that all district leaders had engaged in discussions about the authority’s bid – in spite of the fact that some would be “impacted more positively, from their perspective, than others”.

County Cllr Riggott said that the process had been “another great sign of the new collaborative supportive relationships which are emerging and flourishing right across Lancashire”.

County Hall last month set up its own £5m Levelling Up Investment Fund, which can accessed by district authorities to support them in making bids to the government’s levelling up pot – including by helping them to provide the necessary match funding.

This week, Wyre Council told The Gazette that it was not making a bid in the second round of the Levelling Up Fund. Fylde Council was approached for comment about its intentions.

Meamwhile, as a unitary council, Blackpool is able to make its own bid - either for the £20m available to districts or the up to the £50m permitted for transport projects proposed by transport authorities.

In April, Blackpool Council’s cabinet agreed an approach to developing a proposal, at the core which would be the planned “multiversity” in the town. That scheme – for a new facility with the capacity for 3,600 students – has already received £9m as part of the government’s Town Deal and would be delivered in partnership with Blackpool and the Fylde College and Lancaster University.

Authority was delegated to the council’s chief executive to submit a bid for the second round of the Levelling Up Fund following consultation with council leader Lynn Williams.

Blackpool’s first round bid last year was unsuccessful. It had featured proposed projects including the redevelopment of the Abingdon Street post office into an Indigo brand hotel and a town centre access scheme.

The authority said that government feedback on the reasons for its failed first attempt offered only “limited explanation”, but cabinet papers in April stated that the post office project was considered a “stong candidate” for resubmission.

The county council’s cabinet has committed to the authority providing £5m of match funding to create an overall £55m package for its proposed East Lancashire schemes – although attempts will be made to secure some of the additional cash from third parties.

The government will assess Levelling Up Fund bids according to a variety of criteria, including public benefit and the degree to which they support efforts to achieve net-zero carbon goals.

It is not known when an announcement will be made about which round 2 bids have been successful, but Lancashire County Council is working on the basis that it is likely to come during the chancellor’s budget in the autumn.

It is expected that the authority’s bid will have cost £600,000 to produce by the time it is submitted – out of a £1m fund previously authorised for developing the proposal and generating an outline business case.

Cabinet members have now given the go-ahead for the remaining £400,000 to be spent on further design work for the planned schemes after the application has been made – but before it is known whether the government will back them.

County Hall has opted to spend the additional cash at its own risk, because of the tight timeframe for using a Levelling Up Fund grant once it is issued. The government expects funded projects to be completed by March 2025 or, in exceptional cases, March 2026 – meaning that the county council’s proposals have to be at the most advanced stage possible when the announcement comes about whether its bid has succeeded.

The timescales involved also meant that it was not possible for the authority to base its bid on a major road or bridge scheme.

Burnley and Pendle councils were both successful in their own round 1 bids, scooped £19.5m and £6.5m respectively.