Dithering by County Durham’s new coalition council is putting funding at risk for a trio of vital schemes, while it pursues a Tory MP’s “pet project”.
Labour councillors are calling for immediate action to ensure three bids for tranche one of the Government’s Levelling Up Fund, do not miss out on investment.
They also criticised Tory coalition proposals for prioritising the “Toft Hill Bypass” – a project they say creates “half a bypass” and simply shifts traffic issues from one community to another – over three shelf-ready prepared funding bids.
A coalition review of bids for highways improvements in Stanley, Horden regeneration plans and further development in Durham city centre, could potentially see all three miss out on Government investment, according to Labour.
Labour Leader, Cllr Carl Marshall, said: “The Tory coalition leading the council wants to drop anchor on time-sensitive funding bids, prepared through the £750m Towns and Villages project, while pressing ahead with plans for what can only be described as half a bypass, simply to deliver on a fledgling Tory MP’s election pledge.
“All three submissions for Stanley, Hordon and Durham City, have potential for significant community benefit and were signed off and ready to go before the May elections. By calling them in for review now, the coalition risks missing out on millions in investment.
“These projects were selected because they had been prepared for other funding sources, so were shelf-ready for submission when the Levelling Up Fund was launched. Reviewing them now puts them in real jeopardy.
“It’s concerning that one of the first decisions of this new administration is to throw into a doubt three hugely beneficial projects and back one MP’s pet project, even though it simply shunts traffic issues from one community to another.”
The Toft Hill Bypass plan re-routes A68 traffic around the village. Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison made it an election campaign pledge in 2019.
West Auckland ward member, Cllr Rob Yorke, said: “Toft Hill Bypass solves one problem but creates at least two more in its current format, simply shifting all of the traffic currently travelling through the village into West Auckland and St Helen Auckland.
“While I would welcome a solution addressing all of our communities’ issues with traffic, this project is not it. It’s a half-baked idea for half a bypass that doesn’t even solve half a problem and to prioritise this over vital bids in Stanley, Horden and Durham makes no sense.”
The first round of Levelling Up makes £600m available and limits bids to one per parliamentary constituency area. County Durham can submit up to six bids that address social and economic deprivation and contribute to carbon net zero targets, to a total value of £120 million.