North East Devolution and Levelling Up

White Paper this week. But any new money?

Billions of pounds for regenerating brownfield sites and building thousands of homes will be announced in the Levelling Up White Paper this week. But the announcement led to an immediate political row over whether the funding is ‘new money’.

The announcement by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), while confusing in many respects, is however clear on one point: most of the money is earmarked for mayoral combined authorities (MCAs).

So the four councils in the North East Combined Authority (NECA) – Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham – without a devolution deal or a mayor, will miss out yet again.

According to the DLUHC, 20 places in England are to be transformed through an ambitious regeneration programme, with Wolverhampton and Sheffield the first areas selected. £120m will deliver 7,800 homes in the north and Midlands on disused brownfield land. Derelict sites, says the Department, will be transformed, creating new homes, jobs and beautiful new communities.

‘The 20 areas’, says the DLUHC, ‘will be prioritised within the new £1.5 billion Brownfield Fund. In addition, to kickstart regeneration efforts in these regions, and as part of a wider package of brownfield funding worth £120m, £28m will be allocated to the West Midlands Combined Authority and £13m for the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, to fund the projects most needed to support local levelling up ambitions’.

The statement adds that ‘the government will also launch a £1.5bn Levelling Up Home Building Fund next week, providing loans to small and medium sized builders and developers to deliver 42,000 homes with the vast majority going outside London and the South East’.

And the DLUHC press release adds: ‘A total of £120m of funding will also be given to seven MCAs to transform derelict brownfield sites into vibrant places where people want to live and work. Seven MCAs – West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool, South Yorkshire, North of Tyne, and Tees Valley stand to gain 7,800 homes.

‘A further £30 million is being awarded to three MCAs in Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and West Midlands on disused brownfield land. Meanwhile, £8m from the Brownfield Land Release Fund (BLRF) is being allocated to 13 councils which will release land for a further 898 homes. The BLRF has so far awarded £69 million to support councils to release their brownfield land for 6,856 homes by March 2024’.

Disentangling the different sums involved in this announcement – which are ‘new money’ and which are not, which refer to the same or parts of the same funds, is a task frankly beyond the capacity of this website.

On the face of it, the DLUHC appears to be announcing at least £3bn of spending – a £1.5bn Brownfield Fund and a £1.5bn Levelling Up Homebuilding Fund and several smaller packages which may or may not form part of these.

According to the Observer, Shadow Levelling-up Secretary Lisa Nandy said the Tories had been caught out trying to spin that extra money had been found for poorer areas when the white paper actually contained nothing they did not already know about. But even Nandy’s statement seems to refer only to the Brownfield Fund. The status of the Levelling Up Home Building Fund and the Brownfield Land Release Fund – whether they are additional or the same pot of money under different names – remains even more opaque.

Nandy’s Labour Party colleague Dan Jarvis, Mayor of South Yorkshire, said: ‘I warmly welcome this support for regeneration in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. It’s a much needed recognition of the potential of our region.’

The one thing that is clear is that most or even all of the money, whether amounting to £1.5bn, £3bn even more or nothing new at all, is destined for MCAs with devolution deals. So while North of Tyne and Tees Valley may have reason to celebrate this week, the North East Combined Authority and the residents of Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham, it seems, will not.

A feature on levelling up and the White Paper written by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove appears in today’s Mail on Sunday and can be read here.