MP criticises council after it shelves joint bid for Westminster’s Levelling Up fund
Richard Evans, local democracy reporter
Conwy has come under fire from Clwyd West’s MP David Jones and also the leader of Denbighshire Council after it pulled out of a joint bid for regeneration funds late “risking” tens of millions of pounds to go it alone.
The row follows Conwy and Denbighshire agreeing last year to submit a joint bid for the UK Levelling Up Fund, a Government pot promising up to £20m to a single constituency – a figure which has since increased.
Clwyd West straggles both Conwy and Denbighshire’s borders, meaning Conwy and Denbighshire were submitting a joint bid for £10m funding each.
Conwy, as the lead authority, wanted to use the funds to upgrade its Parc Eirias Stadium in Colwyn Bay whilst Denbighshire planned to spend the money improving the look of Ruthin by investing in numerous community projects.
These included restoration work at St Peter’s Square’s clock tower, cycle and walking paths at Moel Famau and a new community centre at Gwyddelwern.
But when government legislation changed, allowing each council to submit separate bids, Conwy pulled out of the joint bid this month, putting Conwy and Denbighshire’s bids in direct competition for MP David Jones’ support.
While the final decision is made by the UK Government using a scoring system, the MP can only prioritise one bid, and he has now chosen to support Denbighshire’s.
David Jones MP said: “I was rather disappointed, and I felt it should be a joint bid.”
“Conwy said they had had advice from their consultants that they would stand a better chance of getting the money with a separate bid, but I’ve never seen written advice from consultants to support that, despite asking for it.
“I feel it is unfortunate that Conwy decided to put in a separate bid after working so long jointly. I feel that Conwy could have pursued a £20m bid – because they are doubling their bid from £10m to £20m – as part of a joint bid because Denbighshire hadn’t increased the value of their bid substantially.
“It’s a matter of huge regret to me that I’ve been put in a position to do this. But having given great consideration to both bids, I take the view there is broader public benefit in the Denbighshire bid than there is in the Conwy one. I’m very disappointed I couldn’t support one bid for my constituency and that I was put in a very unfortunate position of having to choose.”
He added: “When the bids are determined, they will be determined in the round, and people who are experts in this will look at both bids and make up their minds, but certainly, I think, the prioritisation of the MP certainly carries some weight. How much weight that is, I don’t know.”
The bid was also discussed at Denbighshire’s cabinet meeting this morning where several councillors weighed in on the debate.
The matter arose as Conwy’s decision to pull out of the joint bid meant that Denbighshire’s cabinet had to agree again on delegating authority to its chief executive and senior officers to take the new single bid forward, which was agreed.
Several cabinet members were unhappy with Conwy..
Leader Cllr Jason McLellan said: “In November 2021, cabinet agreed for a joint bid with Conwy County Council.
“A lot of work has been done, and the joint bid was going well. Merely a few weeks ago, we got notice that Conwy were thinking of pulling out of the joint bid. There have been a lot of meetings. The upshot was that Conwy unilaterally pulled out of the joint bid, which put us in a difficult position.
“I think there were some frustrations with Conwy’s decision, but the decision itself was very last minute. The indication they were thinking of going alone had been rumbling on at very short notice, but it is only very recently the decision to pull out completely has been made.”
He added: “When I heard Conwy’s so-called reasons (for pulling out), I thought am I missing something here, the new boy who doesn’t know what’s going on?
“It just didn’t make sense to me why they would want to put their own project at risk because David Jones was quite clear that he would back the joint bid. Conwy always put at risk their bid by going it alone, the risk being that David Jones would not back them, and that made no sense to me at all.”
Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts added: “If Conwy’s single bid wins over Denbighshire’s bid, where does that leave Ruthin?”
Chief executive Graham Boase responded: “What supports our position is the MP, in having to choose between two separate bids, has prioritised the Denbighshire bid. That is really good news.”
The UK Government announced the launch of round two of the levelling up fund in March, and the council has until 6 July 2022 to apply. Successful bidders must have spent the funds by 31 March 2025.
Conwy County Council was contacted for a comment.
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