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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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£4.4m to revive Cumbria's road and housing projects

Cumbria will today be handed £4.4m for key infrastructure projects as part of a Government drive to stop Britain being dragged back into recession.

Council and business leaders will be urged to draw up rapid-fire plans for “shovel-ready” schemes – for roads, housing, shops and business parks – to get underway within months.

Ministers are determined to revive projects that have got “stuck in the mud” because of the economic slowdown, amid growing fears of a ‘double-dip’ recession. The cash will be handed to the new Cumbria ‘local enterprise partnership’ (LEP), the much-criticised body set up to replace the doomed regional development agency.

The handout represents a significant u-turn, given that the Government has previously insisted the LEPs did not need Government funding in order to draw in private investment.

However, in September, ministers announced a £500m ‘Growing Places Fund’, to “get Britain building again”. That pot is being divided up today.

The £500m is not increased Government spending – underspent budgets in the transport and local government departments were raided – so is unlikely to satisfy calls for a ‘Plan B’ financial stimulus.

Nevertheless, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the cash injection would “unlock much-needed local infrastructure and get the homes we need built”.

He added: “It will be local enterprise partnerships, made up of the people and businesses who know their local areas best, who will decide where this cash boost will be spent.”

Mr Pickles suggested the cash could be spent on:

Link roads to “unlock” housing and business developments.

Other measures to “improve local connectivity and reduce congestion”.

The LEPs have just six weeks to submit proposals to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), with allocations to be confirmed in January.

Two weeks ago, a damning report by the Centre for Cities thinktank said LEPs were stuck in the slow lane, having failed to draw up convincing strategies for investment and employment growth.

Furthermore, the LEPs have only been invited to “apply for the funding”, suggesting it could be withheld if their plans do not come up to scratch – but the DCLG played down that possibility.

The allocations were decided partly on the basis of population size and partly according to the relative prosperity of the 38 areas covered by LEPs.

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