Chris Barnes (SBC Assistant Director: Regeneration) gave a slide presentation in respect of the Government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF).
Chris began by explaining that the Levelling Up Fund was a £4.8Bn Government fund for high level local infrastructure, with places being categorised by need (Stevenage was in Category 3 – lowest need). The guidance and assessment principles had been published, based on the three themes of Transport (bids of £20M - £50M), Regeneration (bids of up to £20M) and Cultural (bids of up to £20M).
Chris was requesting the endorsement of the Board for a bid to be submitted, to build on the economic analysis, vision and strategy presented in the Stevenage Town Investment Plan (TIP). The deadline for Round 1 bids was 18 June 2021.
Chris advised that the proposal was to submit a package of 3 bids, expanding on the TIP submission, based on an assessment of deliverability; alignment with the guidance and priorities of the LUF; the ability to start spending money in 2021/22; and added value – delivering more outputs and outcomes than the Town Fund submission. The package would highlight a renewed focus on recovery from the Covid pandemic, in terms of the impact on the way transport was used, public spaces, town centres, ways of working and changing trends in employment. Other area would include delivering health and wellbeing, sustainability, town centre regeneration and job creation.
Chris explained that the package of 3 bids would focus on urban connectivity; “Healthy Hub” leisure and wellbeing; and unlocking sustainable employment. He presented slides outlining examples of what could be included in each of these bids for Stevenage.
During the debate, the following points were made:
· Patsy Dell (Hertfordshire Growth Board) welcomed the focus on unlocking sustainable employment, which was so important to the work of the Hertfordshire Growth Board. She suggested that the bid should focus on the importance of the STEM/Gene cluster element within the package as a whole;
· Borough Councillor Sharon Taylor asked for the bids to pay due cognisance to levelling up in relation to the skills and employment agenda for young people, as well as levelling up for healthy lifestyles by mentioning the Stevenage Young People’s Healthy Hub;
· Martha Lytton Cobbold (Knebworth House) was pleased to see the cultural sector represented, and requested that consideration be given to the provision of more community use spaces in the Healthy Hub, and to apply for further financial support for Stevenage Museum, including outreach work and the digitising of archives;
· Sally Ann Forsyth (Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst) was delighted to report that an independent economic impact assessment relating to the Gunnelswood gyratory road system had recently been published. The cost benefit analysis had concluded that works to improve the gyratory were viable. She had been involved in a number of meetings with BEIS representatives, in order to emphasise the importance of these highway improvements on the adjacent STEM/Gene cluster, and she would shortly be writing to the Secretary of State for Transport about the matter;
· Kit Davies (North Herts College) stressed the importance of the linkages between each of the bids in the package, with regard to the Government’s priority agendas, including skills training, adult learning, health, young people, local employment, etc.;
· Karen Hillen (BEIS) explained that package bids would be assessed by the Government at bid level, not at individual project level, meaning that weaker projects could potentially affect the whole submission;
· Colin Haigh (Hertfordshire County Council) expressed his Council’s support for the Gunnelswood gyratory improvement project. HCC was intending to submit a £50M bid for LUF for a strategic transport scheme in the Transport category, possibly the proposed cross-country Mass Rapid Transit scheme, but was awaiting any local bids in this category in order that (if possible) they could be linked into the strategic bid;
· Tom Pike (SBC Strategic Director) acknowledged that the bid deadline of 18 June 2021 would be challenging, but that officers would be working with the intention of submitting a compelling bid, in conformity with Government guidance. Should a bid be submitted, he noted that some Board Members may prepare letters of endorsement and support that could be sent to the relevant Government Department.
The Chair asked Chris Barnes to take into account the above comments during the preparation of the package of bids.
It was RESOLVED that the package of bids for Levelling Up Funding, as presented by the SBC Assistant Director: Regeneration, be endorsed.