STOCKTON MP: Failed Billingham bid labelled “deeply disappointing”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham was “deeply disappointed” the Billingham bid was unsuccessful, Image: Stockton Council
A failed bid to fund regeneration efforts in Billingham has been labelled “deeply disappointing” by a Stockton MP.
A £20m boost for a new exhibition centre at Preston Park and new public toilets in Yarm brought praise south of the river after “Levelling Up” cash was granted in Wednesday’s budget.
But a separate £20m request to fund buying up the Western Precinct of Billingham town centre wasn’t included in the five North-east projects given money in the fund’s first round.
Stockton Council wants to rejuvenate parts of the “tired” town centre by dealing with “high vacancy rates and excess retail space” hitting the shopping district.
Mixed-use redevelopments, improving access, and a “modern retail offering” are part of the vision.
The council £10m borrowed by the authority to help fund the plan earlier this year.
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham was “deeply disappointed” the Billingham bid was unsuccessful.
“Yet the bid for the much more affluent area of Yarm and Eaglescliffe has been awarded funding,” he said.
“The Tories like to talk a good game on levelling up, but this is yet more proof that it is an empty slogan.”
The setback comes after Billingham wasn’t included in the first round of successful bids to the government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund last year.
Mr Cunningham said Billingham was “fit to burst with potential” – and welcomed the council’s regeneration vision.
The Labour MP added: “I think it’s high time that the Chancellor explains to the people of Billingham why he feels Yarm and Eaglescliffe are more deserving of the Levelling Up cash than their home town.”
A total of £310m was granted for transport projects across the Tees Valley in Wednesday’s budget – including cash for Darlington, Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool, South Bank and Redcar railway stations, as well as line improvements.
The past year has seen a £23.9m grant offered to Thornaby via the Towns Fund – with £16.5m to help fund the waterfront vision on Stockton high street through the “Future High Streets Fund”.
Bishop Auckland, Stockton South, Sunderland and two projects in Newcastle were successful in the first round of the £4.8bn “Levelling Up Fund”.
Funding of plans for Eaglescliffe and Yarm brought praise from Stockton South MP Matt Vickers.
Improvements lined up in Preston Park include regenerating the aviary, improving the cafe, better parking to mitigate traffic problems, and renovating the toilets.
New toilets, cycle parking and new cycle routes are set to benefit Yarm.
Mr Vickers said: “We’re finally going to have that much needed cash injection to kick-start a number of local projects that would never have seen the light of day otherwise.”
Stockton Council leader Cllr Bob Cook welcomed the extra cash coming in the south of the borough.
But he was disappointed at Billingham’s omission.
The Labour leader said: “It’s something we need in the north of the borough.
“It’s great we got something for Yarm, Eaglescliffe, and Preston but we could have done with both of them.
“We need that if the government is serious about levelling up constituencies across the North-east.”
Cllr Cook said the GVA – a measure of the economic value of a project – saw Billingham come out with a value “lower than other places across the country”
But he was hopeful the council would be able to apply for money again in the second round of the Levelling Up Fund.
The Treasury has been contacted for comment.
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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