Durham County Council has criticised the “lack of clarity” around the government’s levelling up fund after its five bids across the county failed for the second time. 

The shock news came today (Monday, November 20) as the government announced that 55 projects across the UK had been awarded a share of nearly £1 billion.

The County Durham projects, submitted by the local authority, detailed plans to regenerate town centres, improve transport connectivity, and create new cultural attractions in all five constituencies across the region - but were not included in the surprise funding announcement. 

What did County Durham bid for?

City of Durham - Relief road at Bowburn to tackle traffic constraints, third phase of the Integra 61 scheme, and stabilisation works on the A690 and active travel measures introduced in the city centre.

Easington – Horden: New social housing and enhanced community assets including a nature reserve and woodland plantation.

North Durham – Stanley: Bringing town centre buildings back to life and improving public transport, improve traffic flow along the A693, and improve Coast 2 Coast route connections.

North West Durham - Willington, Crook and Tow Law: New community hub, improved parks, Multi Use Games Areas (MUGAs), event spaces, and a BMX track and skate park. Better infrastructure at Low Willington Industrial Estate, new and upgraded cycling and walking routes will also be developed between Crook and Willington.

Sedgefield - Newton Aycliffe: Town centre land and buildings repurposed to provide improved flexible space, a public transport interchange and reprovision of surface level car parking. New cultural attractions to improve the town's cultural and wellbeing offer.

Council officials vowed to improve the Round Two bids after they were unsuccessful in January but admit they were left in the dark until the latest announcement. 

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, council leader, has now vowed to challenge the government on the process, as MPs criticised a waste of taxpayers money. 

The Northern Echo: Council Leader Amanda HopgoodCouncil Leader Amanda Hopgood (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“We are extremely disappointed to have been unsuccessful in this round of levelling up funding as well as at the lack of clarity in the process,” said Cllr Hopgood. 

“Since the previous announcement for round two in January, when no bids were successful, we were not asked to submit any further information to support our case for funding in Round three, and we were not made aware of this announcement before it was released.

“We will be challenging the government as to why none of our bids were successful and why some of the most deprived areas in the country have not received levelling up funding. Along with our partners we will continue to explore alternative suitable future funding opportunities and seek clarity from the Government on the most recent process.”

The Department for Levelling Up said bids earmarked for funding were chosen from a pool of bids that were unsuccessful in the second round, avoiding the competitive bidding process seen previously.

County Durham Labour MPs have now questioned the government’s levelling up agenda and labelled it a “farce”. 

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said: "This is a clear indication that the Tories have written off County Durham. It's been a complete farce, and has ended up with County Durham taxpayers spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a bidding process which is neither fair or efficient."

Mary Kelly Foy, MP for City of Durham, said the county has been repeatedly short-changed, adding: “Despite huge sums being spent by Durham County Council to formulate bids to the Levelling Up Fund, the Tories have repeatedly failed to deliver the money necessary to tackle the challenges we face.

“The levelling up fund has been shown to be a farce. Ministers should now reimburse tax payers in County Durham.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP for Sedgefield Paul Howell said the news was "extremely disappointing". "I do not understand how any allocation could not include at least one of the Durham bids.”

A bid in round one of the fund for the Bishop Auckland constituency remains the council's only successful project. 

Fifty-five projects across the UK have been awarded a share of nearly £1 billion from the Government’s levelling up fund, it was announced on Monday. Billingham will receive £20 million to improve its town centre, while South Shields and Newcastle will also benefit from similar funding. 

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Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, has overseen several unsuccessful bids for investment in Horden. He said: “County Durham has some of the most deprived communities in the country, it is now clear that levelling up is a political gimmick without any strategy for delivering regeneration and investment where it is needed most.” 

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said: “Levelling up means delivering local people’s priorities and bringing transformational change in communities that have, for too long, been overlooked and undervalued.

“This funding sits alongside our wider initiatives to spread growth, through devolving more money and power out of Westminster to towns and cities, putting in place bespoke interventions to places that need it most, and our long-term plan for towns.”