North West gets £18.7m share of Government funding to revitalise towns

Boris Johnson

The Government today (September 14) announced the location of 69 high streets that will benefit from £95m of funding to revitalise their fortunes.

But it has been accused of ‘electioneering’ by choosing many in areas it will target to win in a General Election.

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan announced funding for the locations which the Government says will will breathe new life into historic buildings and areas in towns and cities.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport says the investment builds on the successful Heritage Action Zones programme, run by Historic England, and will turn empty and under-used buildings into creative spaces, offices, retail outlets and housing to support wider regeneration in the 69 successful areas by attracting future commercial investment.

The North West will receive £18.7m from the funding pot to be spread between Bacup (Rossendale), Barrow in Furness, Blackpool, Burnley, Chester, Fleetwood, Kirkham, Lancaster, Maryport (Cumbria), Ormskirk, Prescot, Stalybridge, Tyldesley (Greater Manchester), and Wigan Town Centre.

Nicky Morgan said: “Our nation’s heritage is one of our great calling cards to the world, attracting millions of visitors to beautiful historic buildings that sit at the heart of our communities.

“It is right that we ensure these buildings are preserved for future generations, but it is important that we make them work for the modern world.

“This £95m will help breathe new life into high streets all over England, benefiting businesses, supporting our much-loved buildings and helping to make our communities more attractive places to live, work and visit.”

High Streets Minister and Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry said: “Towns across the Northern Powerhouse have a unique and rich history and cultural tapestry that local communities are rightly proud of.

“This initiative, boosted with £95m in support from our Future High Streets Fund, will be vital for Northern towns in unlocking more of their huge potential.”

Catherine Dewar, regional director in the North West for Historic England, said: “High streets are right at the heart of our communities. It’s fantastic news for the people and businesses of Chester that they will receive this boost to help them bring new life to this part of the town centre.”

However, analysis by the Manchester Evening News suggests that the ‘new towns fund’ has been targeted at areas the Government needs to hold or win in a General Election.

Questioned directly at a Northern leaders’ convention in Rotherham yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the claim as “pure cynicism”.

He said: “I’m not aware of any political bias involved. I’m genuinely not aware of any political bias involved in dispersing of those funds.”

Earlier in the day on a walkabout he was confronted by one Doncaster resident who said he had a “cheek” to come to her town.

She said: “People have died because of austerity. And you’ve got the cheek to come here and tell us austerity is over and it’s all good now and we’re going to leave the EU and everything’s going to be great – it’s just a fairytale.”

Last week, in Morley, near Leeds, he was given equally short shrift when, during a walkabout a man shook his hand and said: “Please leave my town.”