‘Shambles’: Welsh county placed at lowest priority for ‘levelling up’ cash not confident of replacing EU funds
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
The leader of Gwynedd Council remains sceptical that the authority will benefit from UK Government infrastructure cash, despite presenting bids for both funding pots.
Last month saw the authority submit its bids for shares of the £220m UK Community Renewal Fund and the concurrent Levelling Up Fund, offering a total of £4.8bn to finance infrastructure projects in deprived areas.
While 17 Welsh authorities were awarded the highest priority status for the Levelling Up Fund, Flintshire, Anglesey and the Vale of Glamorgan were given priority level two with Gwynedd and Monmouthshire thrown into the lowest priority of level three.
The decision led to much criticism due to workers in swathes of Gwynedd being paid some of the lowest wages in the country, with the decision being described by Liz Saville Roberts MP as “not a levelling up but a stitch up”.
Despite this, Gwynedd is listed among the priority areas for the Community Renewal Fund, designed as a stop gap before a more permanent replacement is established for the previous EU aid programme.
Cllr Steve Churchman, during Thursday’s full council meeting, had asked what Brexit meant for funding projects in Gwynedd, adding if there was any chance of Gwynedd getting a slice of the “£350m per day we were sending to the EU that Boris (Johnson) had claimed.”
In response, council leader Dyfrig Siencyn said that some European funding would continue to trickle in until 2023.
He added: “The shared prosperity fund is supposed to make good for that, but you’ve seen what kind of shambles the UK Government has done in presenting these funds.
“We’re in competition with every other local authority across the whole of the UK and the sums are minor, the timescales were ridiculous and many authorities have failed to hit the deadline.
“I’m pleased to say that we did but I wouldn’t hold my breath at all. Many authorities are represented by Conservative MPs which quite possibly have priority over other areas.
“We are using the European money already in hand but I’m not confident about empty promises.”
Following an approach from the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Gwynedd Council has confirmed that three funding bids were presented for the levelling up fund, namely:
- Bangor: a scheme to protect Hirael Bay, to strengthen the link with Porth Penrhyn and the pier as well as the city centre.
- Barmouth: a scheme to protect the town’s coastline, strengthening the link with the railway bridge and delivering environmental improvements to the town centre.
- Bala: a plan to extend the railway line into the town centre and to introduce environmental improvements.
Meanwhile, for the Community Renewal Fund, a council spokesperson added that the authority had invited local organisations (including council departments) to submit bids for funding.
“Having accepted the proposals, Gwynedd Council has prioritised projects seeking support up to the £3 million ceiling permitted to any individual area and submitted them for consideration by the UK Government,” they said.
Speaking later, Cllr Siencyn went on to say: “In my role as Chair of the North Wales Ambition Board, I recently challenged the UK Government on this completely bizarre prioritisation procedure and also had the opportunity to highlight several other concerns including the unrealistic expectations.
“These included that all applications must be submitted by June 18,that all projects submitted are mature enough for construction to start on the ground in January 2022 and completed by March 2024.
“Although this application process has been far from ideal, we have been eager to ensure that we make every effort to attract funding which could make a real difference for communities here in Gwynedd.
“Due to the tight timescale of applying and implementation, only a small number of potential schemes were suitable for submission, with the need for any bids to fall within the main themes of transport investments, town centre regeneration and cultural investment.”