Chiefs exploring 'alternative options' for developments in South Shields, Jarrow and Hebburn after £40million Levelling Up bids rejected

Town hall bosses have said they will explore “alternative” funding options for major cultural, housing and renewable energy schemes after losing out in the latest round of Levelling Up funding.
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Central Government has announced £2.1billion of funding for more than 100 projects across the country under round two of the Levelling Up Fund.

South Tyneside Council had submitted two bids worth £40million which borough leaders hoped would bring new jobs and further investment by boosting green energy, education and cultural offerings.

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This included two £20million bids, with one for South Shields and one for Jarrow and Hebburn.

South Tyneside's bids for levelling up funding have been unsuccessfulSouth Tyneside's bids for levelling up funding have been unsuccessful
South Tyneside's bids for levelling up funding have been unsuccessful

The South Shields bid included creating a skills and visitor centre at Holborn Renewable Energy Network, developing a new student accommodation block at the town’s former Central Library site and work to develop the Customs House and a cultural quarter.

The Hebburn and Jarrow bid included educational and training facilities at Jarrow Hall, public realm improvements at Mountbatten Shopping Centre in Hebburn and an extension to the Hebburn renewable energy scheme to incorporate a wider range of buildings.

However the two bids were unsuccessful, sparking criticism from South Tyneside Council’s leader and the borough’s MPs.

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The Government decision marked the second time the borough has lost out after a bid to attract support from the fund for South Tyneside College’s planned town centre relocation was rejected in 2021.

South Tyneside Council’s leader, Cllr Tracey Dixon, slammed the Government over the Levelling Up Fund decision last week, criticising the bidding process and its expense.

Councillor Joanne Bell, the local authority’s cabinet member for governance, finance and corporate services, speaking this week, confirmed the council was still waiting for “official feedback” on why the bids were rejected.

“We were all in the same position as Cllr Dixon and were so bitterly disappointed that neither of our schemes were actually afforded anything at all,” Cllr Bell said.

“It won’t stop the ambitions of the council and it won’t stop us from applying for Government funding or any external funding.

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“We just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on and obviously look at alternative ways of funding the schemes that were going to move forward.

“We certainly don’t want to lose the momentum with them and it’s just a case of looking for alternatives”.

It was confirmed the council would “keep all options open” and learn lessons from previous funding decisions, as well as exploring other external funding sources or delivering schemes in a different way.

While Cllr Bell said it was important to have confidence in the process of applying for Government funding, she expressed disappointment at the process for some funds.

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This included the “hoops you have to jump through” and “fences put in your way” around local authorities progressing and being able to utilise funding.

In recent months, it was confirmed Green Homes Grant funding, intended to improve council housing stock, was unable to be spent in full due to Government changes around administration and paperwork.

Cllr Bell continued: “It’s very very difficult sometimes to work out what it is the Government want from us.

“We’re clear about what we want from the Government but I don’t think they always make it clear what they want from us.

“That is the difficulty of trying to do something like the medium term financial plan, with one hand tied behind your back”.

A Government spokesperson has previously defended the allocation of funding under the Levelling Up Fund.

The Government spokesperson said: “The Levelling Up Fund is investing in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK, spreading opportunity to historically overlooked areas.

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“All projects were subject to a rigorous assessment process under robust, fair and transparent rules, with no involvement of local MPs.”

South Tyneside Council’s medium term financial plan, which includes revenue and capital spending proposals and a 4.95% council tax rise, is expected to be discussed by cabinet members on February 1, 2023.

Subject to cabinet approval, the spending plans will be put to the vote at a meeting of full council on February 23, 2023.