I was hoping to put the case for Gainsborough to get a Town Deal in a House of Commons debate on the Towns Fund this afternoon. Unfortunately the debate was oversubscribed and not everyone was able to get a spot on the speaking list. Instead, I have written today to Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government arguing that Gainsborough is the perfect candidate for a Town Deal. — Sir Edward Leigh MP
THE RT HON SIR EDWARD LEIGH MP
HOUSE OF COMMONS, LONDON SW1A 0AA
Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government
4 February 2021
I am sorry that today’s debate on the Towns Fund has been oversubscribed and that accordingly I will not be able to take part. It is testament to the interest in and success of the Towns Fund as a very welcome government project.
At the same time, I am compelled to write to you regarding Gainsborough, the largest town in my constituency.
As we who represent non-urban constituencies know, there is often great need and deprivation that flies beneath the radar in our country towns. At the same time, there are great opportunities in our towns which are waiting to be taken advantage of. It is the genius of the Towns Fund to match these challenges with these opportunities and for central government to give a helping hand in enabling solutions.
In my constituency, Gainsborough’s South West ward is consistently rated as amongst the most deprived in the country. Fuel poverty rates here are double the national average and over 50 per cent of homes fail the decent homes test. Hundreds of people rely on the local food bank and life expectancy is 6.8 years lower for women and 8.4 years lower for men than in the least-deprived areas of West Lindsey. In 2019 the unemployment rate in the South West ward was 22.7% compared to 3.9% nationally.
I’m sure you will agree that pockets of deprivation like this need to be tackled head-on. A Town Deal for Gainsborough would, for a little investment, provide an immense return.
Gainsborough already has the building blocks of success. West Lindsey District Council have done a tremendous amount of legwork already. They’ve put together a Town Deal Board and drafted a Town Investment Plan. They’ve looked at models for delivering economic growth as well as the increased productivity we need. With their experience of the Single Local Growth Fund and lottery grants West Lindsey also has a track record of delivery. We have community-minded businesses with a conscience like the Gelder Group. We’ve got the Gainsborough Construction Careers College that’s arming young people with the skills businesses need to make them employable.
When the Towns Fund was initially announced, we were told it was aiming at helping towns of around 30,000 inhabitants. By the strictest definition, Gainsborough has 23,000 residents, but with the surrounding area and parts within its natural orbit it is easily 30,000. West Lindsey approached your department with this in mind but unfortunately were rebuffed.
At the same time, nearby Skegness — population 19,000 — and Mablethorpe — population 12,000 — have been allowed to combine to be included in the Towns Fund. I am always deeply pleased to see central government investing in Lincolnshire and I welcome the commitment to neighbouring East Lindsey. But as the statistics in the South West ward show, Gainsborough is in real need.
In terms of income deprivation and skills deprivation as well as investment opportunity and alignment to wider government investment, Gainsborough should be on the department’s list of High Priority towns. Instead, we are the highest-scoring town in the Medium Priority to have been left untouched by the Towns Fund.
Thanks to the work of West Lindsey District Council, the framework is entirely there. The plans have been thought through and a great effort has been put in already. Gainsborough needs the kind of support — that extra little push — that central government can facilitate and that local government can deliver.
Gainsborough needs a Town Deal and I would very much welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this and I look forward to hearing back from you.