Lancashire County Council is preparing a bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund - and will put forward a project designed to create jobs and reduce health inequalities as the area emerges from the pandemic.
The nature of the proposed initiative has yet to be decided, but bids are being invited that could cut carbon emissions and congestion - and boost the economy.
County Hall is now calling on all of Lancashire’s councils and MPs to get behind a single scheme.
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Deputy leader Alan Vincent told a meeting of the authority’s cabinet that it was important for the county to develop a proposal which would help it recover in the immediate aftermath of Covid.
“We want to do this and we want to do it quickly. Post-pandemic, we all have medium and long-term plans... but there will be an extreme need for short-term hits and this will be one of them,” he said.
The county’s 12 district councils are able to submit their own individual bids for up to £20m to fund schemes which could include town centre regeneration and cultural initiatives - but can also propose smaller-scale transport initiatives designed to improve the roads and public transport in their local areas.
The two standalone councils in the county - Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen - are also permitted, as highways authorities, to make their own transport bids. However, government guidance on applying to the Levelling Up Fund raises the prospect of local authorities collaborating across boundaries to submit joint proposals.
County Cllr Vincent acknowledged that coming up with a Lancashire-wide plan could prove a challenge.
“I think we all have an obligation to make sure we lobby all our MPs across Lancashire [to back] the one scheme that we can have - and we all need to agree what that one scheme can be,” he said.
The application guidance states that MPs must be consulted over bids, but their support is not a precondition of success.
Any district-level transport projects would require the backing of the county council as lower-tier authorities do not have transport powers in their own right. Papers presented to cabinet members state that discussions will take place to ensure district and council bids are “aligned and complementary” where appropriate.
Improving connectivity is one of the criteria on which proposed projects will be judged.
Submissions will also be assessed depending on how different local authority areas have been categorised on the basis of need. Within Lancashire, seven councils – Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Preston and Rossendale – have been given category 1 status, which will give them the highest priority under the fund.
Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster and West Lancashire have been placed in category 2, with Ribble Valley, South Ribble and Wyre in the lowest-priority list.
County councils have not been ranked in that way, so their bids will be based on the categorisation of the districts which would benefit from any proposed transport scheme.
Lancashire County Council’s cabinet has agreed to contribute £5m in local match funding towards any successful bid, which will require a detailed business case to demonstrate that it offers value for money.
Cabinet member for highways and transport Charlie Edwards said that Lancashire would get only “one bite of the cherry” and that it was vital its transport bid - the deadline for which is likely to come later this year - is successful.
The overall aim of the Levelling Up Fund is to invest in new infrastructure in areas where it will make the “biggest difference to everyday life” - including deprived towns and coastal communities. The £4.8bn pot is open for bids for the next three years.