Rural Suffolk missing out on levelling up cash, report says
- Credit: GREGG BROWN
Rural parts of Suffolk are being overlooked in favour of northern towns when it comes to bidding for government levelling up funds, a report has found.
The report, published by the Rural Services Network, found that some areas East Anglia are just as deprived as more urbanised parts of the country but they were given a lower priority when it came to being allocated money for regeneration.
Graham Biggs, chief executive of the Rural Services Network, said: “Currently, the way in which government allocates spending spatially is failing to unlock the opportunities rural areas can offer to the nation.
“Whitehall needs to keep it simple. Allocate Levelling Up funds to where living standards, and economic opportunities, are lowest – regardless of whether these are in the North or the South, or in towns, cities, conurbations or in countryside."
While Ipswich received £25million from the Town Fund as part of the government's levelling up agenda, the Rural Services Network said that mid Suffolk should also be among the top areas when it comes to funding.
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Peter Aldous, Waveney MP and a critic of how funding has been allocated, said the problem came from government stats not digging deep enough into the problem.
He said: "The stats that government have used are based on District Council areas.
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"And since the ending of Waveney District council Lowestoft — my main concern — is in East Suffolk which is a much larger district council and has some reasonably affluent areas.
"So when you look at the district as a whole that is the reason why Lowestoft does not get put in the highest category.
"I have banged on to government about this and I'm awaiting a further reply to my letter from them."
Meanwhile, people in Mid Suffolk say the area is in need of extra funding.
Keith Scarff is the mayor of Stowmarket in mid Suffolk as well as a Liberal Democrat county and district councillor.
He said: "Mid Suffolk is a lovely place to live, but like all places, we do have our issues.
"I've been in the town 30 years, and in that time it's probably more than doubled in terms of population. But in many respects, some of the facilities haven't kept pace with it.
"Often the developments come without any of the benefits."
Mr Scarff added that the pandemic had further shown up problems in the district.
"Businesses operating from home during the pandemic, in a poor broadband area have really struggled," he said.
"They are trying to roll out superfast fibre broadband everywhere now — trying to reach rural locations — which I think is a really great thing.
"It's things like connectivity — people being able to move around the district.
"If we could see more connectivity for residents within the district allowing people to move about easier, they'll come in from other places and they'll spend their money."
John Kingsley owns Ince's clothes shop in the mid Suffolk town and has worked on the high street since 1967.
He said the town's high street needed help regenerating.
"It's just existing," he said. "It hasn't had a lot of new investment into it."
Mr Kingsley said that he would welcome measures like free parking to encourage shoppers into the town.
"There's a lot of new houses around, but they're not shopping in Stowmarket because places like Bury offer free parking after a certain time.
"Free parking is only a little thing, but it does help."
A Treasury spokesman said: "We’re supporting all areas of the country to level up by investing billions of pounds to help improve people’s daily lives and the services they rely on.
“We will publish a levelling up white paper later this year, setting out more details on how we’ll help improve livelihoods, spread opportunity and drive economic growth – as we build back better from the pandemic.”
The spokesman added that rural areas would benefit from better broadband, £3 billion of bus service improvements and a freeze on fuel duty.