Doubts over welcome £1.6bn boost for towns March 4, 2019

Keighley, West YorkshireThe government announcement on Monday March 4 of a £1.6bn Stronger Towns Fund should help provide a welcome boost for several struggling towns in Yorkshire, but it is already raising doubts about how the money will be allocated and distributed and whether it will actually reach the areas where it is needed most.

Questions are also being raised about how thinly a national fund equivalent to just about one-tenth of the cost of the Crossrail rail link project in London will be spread across the whole UK over its seven-year duration.

Some £197m of the cash as been earmarked for bids from the Yorkshire and the Humber region, but the government expects communities to draw up plans for their town with the support and advice of their far-from-local Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). There are only four of these in the government's Yorkshire and Humber region, each with a mish-mash of overlapping boundaries and two even named in a way which shows gross bias towards the very largest cities rather than other cities and towns.

Selby, North YorkshireLook at the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership  website for example. While some news from the city of Bradford has been added only this Monday, you might otherwise struggle to find a mention of other large cities and major towns the supposedly 'local' enterprise partnership covers, let alone struggling smaller towns.

The leading cities and towns of the so-called 'Leeds City Region' include Bradford, Huddersfield, Wakefield and Halifax in West Yorkshire, Barnsley in South Yorkshire and Harrogate, Selby and Skipton in North Yorkshire and also York. These cities and towns each lead massive district local authorities themselves and most have several struggling smaller towns within their own district regions. Often blame is laid at the allocation of cash to Leeds as part of the reason for their struggle.

Rothwell, West YorkshireThe Leeds district authority, still regarded by many as a reasonably-defined extent of the Leeds metropolitan area and city influence, itself includes many small towns, including Morley,  Garforth, Guiseley,  Pudsey,  Rothwell and Yeadon to name but a few. Other districts, particularly the metropolitan districts in the LEP area, have an even greater number of such towns.

Mexborough, South YorkshireAnother Local Enterprise Partnership in the government's Yorkshire and Humberside region with a clear city bias is the Sheffield City Region LEP, which has the hidden inclusion of the other major lead towns of South Yorkshire metropolitan districts: Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley, the latter district overlapped with Leeds City Region LEP. Lashed on to make Sheffield appear the centre rather than at one side of a four-centre metropolitan area are four Derbyshire district authorities, including the Derbyshire Dales, and the Nottinghamshire district authority of Bolsover.

'Local' in the east of the region is the Humber LEP, including the many small towns of the East Riding of Yorkshire as well as the city of Kingston upon Hull and also all the towns across the Humber estuary in North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire authorities.

In the north of the region is the Northallerton-based York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP which includes all the many towns of the Richmondshire, Hambleton, Ryedale and Scarborough districts, but also Craven, Harrogate, Selby and York districts which are overlapped with the Leeds City Region LEP and the East Riding of Yorkshire district which is overlapped with the Humber LEP.

Although it is outside the government's Yorkshire and Humber region, there is also the Tees Valley LEP, which includes Yorkshire towns in the Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees local authorities.

With hundreds of towns across the region, and many of them struggling from a huge emphasis on the planning which has congested Yorkshire's largest cities, it remains to be seen how many of Yorkshire's towns will actually benefit from the Stronger Towns Fund.

Leeds has benefited from the City and Growth DealThe government says the money will build on the success of the government’s City and Growth Deals initiatives.

Announcing the Stronger Towns Fund, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "For too long in our country prosperity has been unfairly spread. Our economy has worked well for some places but we want it to work for all communities.

"Communities across the country voted for Brexit as an expression of their desire to see change – that must be a change for the better, with more opportunity and greater control.

"These towns have a glorious heritage, huge potential and, with the right help, a bright future ahead of them."

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