A THIRD bid for Levelling-Up funding for Monmouthshire, after the county missed out on millions of pounds this week, is likely to concentrate on the Severnside area.
The UK Government announced projects which would be supported through its £2.1 billion Levelling Up fund this week – and, though £36 million was awarded to projects in Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, none of the bids submitted for Monmouthshire were successful.
Cllr Paul Griffiths, deputy leader of Monmouthshire County Council, told councillors it was “with regret” he had to report the bids to support the regeneration of Caldicot, including a new leisure centre, the regeneration of Monmouth, and for transport improvements had all been overlooked.
But he said the council will now try to find alternative funding, including from the Welsh Government, to support those plans, while it will also make an application for a third time to the Levelling Up fund with the UK Government, having confirmed there will be a third funding round.
Cllr Griffiths said that will have £1 billion to distribute and no timetable has been announced, but he said the council administration intends to concentrate on a bid that “will realise the potential of the Severnside area” which he said has a “high economic value” to Wales.
Monmouthshire had bid for £14 million for redevelopments in Caldicot, which included upgrading the leisure centre and revamping the town centre, while a bid for £11 million for the regeneration of Monmouth town centre, including investment in the Shire Hall and the Market Hall, had been refined after it missed out on the first round of funding.
Cllr Griffiths said the UK Government hadn’t provided any appraisal of the unsuccessful bids or given any reasons why projects hadn’t been supported. He said alternatives source could include the Welsh Government’s transforming towns fund, transport grants, and by working with regional partners.
The bids were developed by the previous Conservative administration at County Hall and supported by the Labour group after it came to power at last May’s local elections.
Former council leader Richard John, who remains the leader of the Tory opposition, asked why the current leadership plans just one bid for the next round when it can make an application for each of its two Parliamentary constituencies and a transport bid.
Cllr Griffiths said the round three fund will have less money to allocate and said: “If we put two or three bids in we would be leaving it to others to prioritise, I think the people best placed to make those judgements are the people in this chamber.”
He said his suggestion of concentrating on one bid will be subject to further debate within the council.
Chepstow’s Bulwark and Thornwell Labour councillor Armand Watts said he regretted the council had missed out despite former leader Cllr John having met with Boris Johnson.
Cllr Watts said: “It is disappointing despite Richard John’s visit to see Boris to glad hand the then-prime minister that we didn’t get any money.
“I find that odd. I remember when we put the bid in we had already spent something like £30,000 to get consultants to make that bid.”
He said he thought a single bid would be sensible: “Anything else simply dilutes our opportunity I would just urge us not to make the same mistakes.
“I know Paul won’t be rushing down to shake hands with Rishi Sunak any day soon but let’s not load up money with consultants unless we’ve got a very clear objective. We’ve been too frivolous before, engaging with consultants, and wasting money as we did under the previous administration without really properly thinking through these bids.”
At the meeting Cllr John also claimed that under the previous European Union funding scheme, distributed by the Welsh Government, Monmouthshire “never got a penny” from the “billions spent in Wales”. In reply Cllr Catrin Maby, the cabinet member for the environment, said she could think of “at least five programmes” that benefitted the county.
EU funds had to be spent in the areas identified as the “most deprived” which in Wales, from 1999, was West Wales and the Valleys which benefitted from the highest levels of support while other areas were entitled to separate support funding.