'We are a long way from getting the money': The inside story on the push to get the cash for Grimsby's town centre improvements
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 7 Feb 2018
Is Grimsby’s £36 million town deal being held up in Westminster? Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly examines whether the brakes have been put on the regeneration scheme.
There was tangible excitement emitting from the corridors of Grimsby town hall when the multi-million pound council-backed improvement plans were name-dropped by the Government last year.
Cited on one-half of a page of the 255-page Industrial Strategy, ministers praised the “new approach to regeneration” exhibited by the Greater Grimsby Partnership Board – the public and private sector sponsors of the economy-boosting plans to revitalise the town.
The 10-year town deal – which has cross-party backing both within North East Lincolnshire Council and Parliament – is an upgrade scheme aiming to breathe new life into Grimsby’s waterways and docks.
It plans to create educational and leisure opportunities, with long-term targets of establishing 5,400 further jobs and building 7,700 homes, as well as adding £216m a year to the North East Lincolnshire economy.
Under the scheme, the publicly-owned Victoria Mills and the forgotten Kasbah would become city hubs once again, while the disused Garth Lane site could be turned into desirable flats, bringing a permanent “lived-in” buzz to the town centre.
Grimsby's mention in the Government's Industrial Strategy white paper - it featured on p226 of the 255-page document
While there is the promise of private investment, the hold-up for the ambitious plans – spearheaded by Grimsby-born millionaire and entrepreneur David Ross – is the ask of £36.9 million, spread over five years, from the Government.
Grimsby’s featuring role in the industrial strategy – along with an honourable mention from the Prime Minister – was thought, by some close to the deal, to be the green light from ministers. The borough council even went so far as to call it the “go-ahead” they needed to run a pilot.
READ MORE: So what has happened to our £36.9m Grimsby town deal?
But, while £36.9m might be a drop in the ocean when it comes to Treasury finances, the Government – facing budget demands from the NHS, Brexit, the police and a myriad of other areas – has yet to sign-off the cash.
If the mention of the regeneration scheme in November’s industrial strategy had buoyed supporters, the Government’s reticence to talk it up since has equally worried them. MPs were united in their concern last week that ministers had gone off the idea of a Grimsby town deal and sought reassurances that it was still on track.
The council wants to transform the Kasbah area of the docks, where the designation of a new Conservation Area was recently awarded
Richard Harrington, a junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), looked to allay the fears of Grimsby MP Melanie Onn and Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers.
He told the pair that he would be “making sure this happens as soon as is possible” and promised to meet with them. A date for that rendezvous is currently being worked out between the minister’s officials and North East Lincs MPs.
The MPs questions to the minister had been sparked after Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry, declined to discuss the Grimsby town deal during questions in the House of Commons a fortnight ago.
Mr Berry told Mr Vickers, who had asked him when a decision was likely to be made on the regeneration plans, that the Conservative MP should ask business ministers for an update on its progress – and not him.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, pictured during his visit to Cleethorpes in 2017
That was despite the minister, who works in the newly-named Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG), being closely involved in negotiations for many months.
The Northern Powerhouse Minister visited the region to meet the project board and also held meetings with representatives in Westminster. The permanent secretary at the Communities department, Melanie Dawes, also visited North East Lincolnshire to meet Council Leader, Councillor Ray Oxby, and his senior officials to thrash-out the details on the town deal.
MP Ms Onn accused the Government of “ping-ponging” the deal between departments, while Mr Vickers said he was “disappointed” at Mr Berry’s most recent response.
Mr Vickers, a backbench Tory MP, said: “I was disappointed with what the minister said, especially bearing in mind the council told me he had been giving them a positive response.”
Martin Vickers, Tory MP for Cleethorpes, said the region was still 'a long way' from getting hold of the regeneration cash (Image: Rick Byrne)
There is a worry in some circles that, with the focus for Communities Secretary Sajid Javid shifting to attempting to solve the housing crisis, creating the first ever town deal has slipped down his department’s priority list.
Combine that with the understanding that the Treasury is said to be less than enamoured at the prospect of handing out great wads of investment cash without a strict devolution arrangement in place, and the job of securing money for Grimsby’s spruce-up seems even harder to guarantee.
Mr Vickers said the next stage of the process was to get both Secretaries of State – Communities Secretary Mr Javid and Business Secretary Greg Clark – “fully on side and engaging with the case for funding”.
The resort MP said: “We are a long way from getting the money – that is the reality.
“There is no fund with the name ‘town deals’ written on it. We have to provide evidence and a convincing case for why there should be a town deal and, if there is a pilot for it, why Grimsby and Cleethorpes should be given it first.
Business Minister Richard Harrington is responsible for the industrial strategy
“I think it is fair to say that BEIS and the Communities department are supportive but they have to extract the money from the Treasury. I’m not overconfident about that but I’m pleased that the departments are supporting it.”
Labour MP Ms Onn said it was time for ministers to move beyond “warm words” on the regeneration scheme.
“It is welcome that after ping ponging between Government departments, BEIS is taking a serious interest in the Greater Grimsby deal,” said the shadow housing minister.
“This project – which would boost jobs, skills, housing and an improved cultural offer for my constituents – needs action, not simply warm words. Grimsby deserves to be more than just a by-line in a glossy document.
Shadow housing minister and Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn (Image: Richard Addison)
“The next step is to ensure that the project board have a clear, fully-costed plan, ready to take to Government,” she continued.
“The minister has already agreed to meet with me, along with other key figures, so we can start making the plan a reality.”
Cllr Ray Oxby described the talks as “new territory” and stressed details would not be signed-and-sealed “overnight”.
The local Labour Party leader said he and officials had continued to have “regular and constructive discussions” with figures from across Whitehall departments “to move details of the agreement forward”.
The council previously said it had opted out of joining a, potentially coffers-boosting, local government funding programme, being trialled in the rest of Lincolnshire, because it preferred to focus on getting the town deal over the line.
Mr Oxby said: “The Greater Grimsby Town Deal has already been some 18 months in the making.
Ray Oxby, leader of North East Lincolnshire Council (Image: Jon Corken)
“This is new territory for all parties. There’s a lot of work involved and we’ve said all along that it’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re confident that we’ll be finalising the further details soon.
“Greater Grimsby has the capacity to accomplish so much more and by bringing together key people with shared aspirations we can work with the community to raise aspiration and build a prosperous future for our town.”
A BEIS spokesman said it was “certainly not the case” that enthusiasm for the Greater Grimsby town plan had cooled in Westminster.
He said Mr Harrington, the minister handling it for BEIS, was “extremely keen to be involved” in helping it progress.
“Mr Harrington is not leading on the project overall but he is working with counterparts in both BEIS and the Communities department and is working with MPs to have their input,” said the spokesman.
A spokesman for the Communities department re-iterated that the industrial strategy committed to “considering” a town deal for Grimsby, with it now being looked at by the Cities and Local Growth Unit – a partnership between the department and BEIS.
“We hope to have a proposal for consideration in the near future,” said the Communities spokesman.
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