Gosport fails in £14.7m Levelling Up funding bid

But Chief Correspondent Rob Thomas finds that it will be a case of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try again’…

EXPECTATIONS were high but in the end Gosport Borough Council’s hopes of securing £14.7 million to invest in local infrastructure were dashed as the first round of Levelling Up funding was announced.

The borough had been classified as being of category/priority 1 status – having the highest levels of identified need for economic recovery, transport connectivity, and regeneration – and the Levelling Up Fund: Prospectus stated: “While preference will be given to bids from higher priority areas, the bandings do not represent eligibility criteria.”

The prospectus set out three main themes for the first round of Levelling Up funding: transport investments, regeneration and town centre investment, and cultural investment.

Gosport’s bid

In aligning with these, the council’s bid had three main parts:

£2.9 million to enhance the plan for a new transport interchange for Gosport, including improvements to public areas and improved facilities for people walking and cycling;

£3.7 million to add to the work being done by the Gosport High Street Heritage Action Zone project, which seeks to re-purpose historic buildings and bring empty space back into use;

£8.1 million to build on work being done to find new uses for some of the fine heritage sites being released by the MoD – restoring them and creating new attractions, studio and office spaces, and opportunities for residents. Efforts would also be made to improve pedestrian, cycling and environmentally friendly transport along Gosport waterfront.

An additional criterion included in the prospectus was that: “In the first round of funding, we will prioritise projects which are able to demonstrate investment or begin delivery on the ground in the 2021-22 financial year.”

In a report to the September meeting of Gosport Borough Council’s Economic Development Board, the economic & regeneration manager identified as a “quick win” a feasibility study of improvements to transport interconnectivity between Gosport Waterfront sites between Priddy’s Hard and the Submarine Museum at Haslar.

Adding: “Given the short delivery time for such a study – between any autumn government announcement and the end of March 2022 – an [Invitation to Quote] exercise is also under way to identify a contractor, so as to be in a position to start the study immediately, should the LUF application be successful.”

‘We will bid again’

But it was not to be this time and expressing his disappointment  council Leader Graham Burgess said: “We’re waiting for feedback on our bid and will use this when round two of bidding opens, early next year. We will bid again then, and hope to be successful.”

MPs were encouraged to write in support of Levelling Up Fund bids from the local authority in their constituency, and in her letter Gosport’s Caroline Dinenage outlined the importance of the borough’s bid and ended: “With government support we can take this once in a generation opportunity to boost economic prosperity, community cohesion and life-enhancing change for my constituents.”

After finding out that the bid had been unsuccessful, Ms Dinenage told The Globe she also was: “Really disappointed”.

And added: “It was pulled together quite hastily and faced stiff competition from other areas who had more developed bids. I hope they get the chance to bid again in the next round with more time and the benefit of this experience.”

Help will be available for bidding in subsequent rounds because the Levelling Up Fund: Prospectus promises £125,000 of “capacity funding” to support eligible local authorities develop their bids.

Portsmouth to get £20m, Fareham nothing

What will have added to the disappointment felt in Gosport is that despite sharing senior management with Portsmouth, the city – categorised as priority 2 area in the index complied for the funding allocation process – was awarded £20 million for ‘Transforming the visitor economy’.

Fareham was classified as a priority 3 area and its bid for £13.1 million – for the construction of the Fareham Live arts and entertainment venue, and to modernise the Osborn Road multi-storey car park – was unsuccessful.

Image from Malcolm McHugh / Alamy Stock Photo No. DAG7JN