The local government secretary announced yesterday (6 September) that Bedford is among one hundred towns invited to pitch for a new generation of multi-million-pound Town Deals.
The announcement states that the ‘100 towns have been chosen as they have not always benefitted from economic growth in the same way as more prosperous areas’.
It is now the responsibility of the town’s communities, businesses and local leaders to draw up ambitious plans – focusing on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture – to bring a slice of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund to Bedford.
Local Government Secretary, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, said:
“I will now work with local people from the 100 communities announced today to agree proposals to invest up to £25 million in each place.
“I hope these deals will provide the investment and the impetus for long-term renewal ensuring each town can look to the future with a new optimism.”
Conservative party parliamentary candidate, Ryan Henson said, “This is great news for Bedford.
“I campaigned for Bedford to be on the list of 100 places to benefit from the Government’s new Towns Fund and I am pleased that the Local Government Secretary has listened and made that happen.
“Funding proposals need to be approved, but what matters is that Bedford has been chosen and – once approved – this new Town Deal for Bedford has the potential to improve connectivity, provide vital social and cultural infrastructure and boost growth – with us in Bedford having a say on how the money is spent.
“I will now work hard to make sure we get the money as soon as possible so that it can get to where it’s need most.”
Commenting on the Government’s announcement, Councillor Henry Vann, Portfolio Holder for Town Centres and Planning said: “We welcome the news that Bedford is one of the 100 places eligible to access the Towns Fund, this clearly recognises the hard work already going on in Bedford, and we will be making a bid to the Fund.
“Bedford is in a strong position, with the town centre being one of Mayor Dave Hodgson’s priorities. We are currently running a consultation on the future of the town centre, that has already had more than 1,600 responses.
“We will also be looking at asking the government to include Kempston in any future rounds of funding.”
Meanwhile, Elaine Midgley, director of Bedford Creative Arts added that art and culture are important to the plans: “In order for any town to thrive it needs great businesses, transport links, skilled work-forces and communication structures however we must remember that art and culture contributes £10.6 billion to the UK economy every year.
“Not only does a vibrant cultural scene support a balanced economy but it is the character of a place that attracts and keeps businesses, tourists and residents.
“Culture is essential to this as it creates a sense of place, encourages connectedness and enables a vibrant town to share and celebrate all that makes it what it is.
“Bedford Creative Arts is excited by this opportunity for Bedford to raise its creative ambitions and celebrate its diverse cultural offer to a broad audience.”
Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston said: “Over the last years I’ve supported a number of bids for funding for our high streets and I have no doubt that I will do so again, but It’s not good enough to throw a bit of cash at the problem every now and then.
“We need real reform to a system that hasn’t worked for our struggling high streets for years.
“Business rates reform and an online sales tax were both recommendations of the recent Housing Communities and Local Government select committee report.
“As a committee member I supported those recommendations and asked the Minister how he would implement them, but this announcement just shows that he wasn’t listening at all.”
The government will soon publish a prospectus to guide towns through the process and set eligibility criteria for funding.
Decisions on funding any proposals will be made in due course. The complete list of towns can be found here.