Labour group leader says there is 'much more to do' for Mansfield's Town Fund bid
When the Government announced Mansfield and Warsop would receive £12.3m from its Town Fund application, it left many wondering how the money would be spent – and why a district of this size got less than other areas.
The announcement that Mansfield was one of 45 areas to benefit from the £1.02b Town Fund pot was met with a mixed reaction as the windfall was less than half of the original £25m applied for – and of that received by neighbouring Newark.
Ministers have confirmed they are willing to consider supporting a number of projects from an approved list, with a community leisure hub for Warsop, a multi-agency civic hub for public services and improving the town’s digital infrastructure all featuring.
It means business cases will now be finalised for schemes earmarked to progress further, with projects expected to be completed by 2026.
Labour Group leader, Andy Abrahams, says he is determined to deliver his election manifesto promise to regenerate the town centre and surrounding district – despite Mansfield’s funding applications falling well below the £50m that was hoped for.
He explains: “Obviously I welcome the figure of ‘up to £12.3m’, which is a significant investment, but the devil is in the detail and I will never over-promise to gain favour.
"I believe in being honest with residents; there is still much work to do to decide which of the projects we put forward.
“The reason for my cautious analysis is that we are still hurting from the fact we received nothing in our £25m bid in the Future High Streets Fund.
“I do not mention this just because previous promises haven’t been delivered, but to point out that the treasury-based benefit cost ratio is based on the uplift in land values – the criteria that eliminated our excellent FHSF proposal without its merit even being assessed.
“This BCR (benefit cost ratio) still forms part of the Towns Fund criteria, at the vital point when funding is approved.
"The Government are still using this out-of-date formula that doesn’t take into account the years of under-investment in our town, which is the reason for the low land values that is holding it back from successful funding bids.”
Mr Abrahams says it is important residents know the facts and is ‘disappointed’ Warsop was not allowed its own pot of £25m, unlike the neighbouring towns of Sutton and Kirkby which had the opportunity to bid for £25m each.
He continued: “The Government funding department originally excluded Warsop from being included within the funding boundary.
"When it was missed out, we requested it be considered as a separate town to increase our potential funding application like they had done for Ashfield, where Sutton and Kirkby were treated as two bids.
"It is incredulous that our district with a population of 109,000 could only bid for half the funding that Ashfield could for Sutton and Kirkby, with a population of 74,000 combined.”
Mr Abrahams also confirmed that he has worked constructively with Mansfield’s MP Ben Bradley throughout the process.
He explains: “We have both expressed our frustration that the assessment criteria used does not include the ‘levelling up’ element needed for Mansfield to be more successful and Ben has pressed for the assessment to be updated in the Levelling Up Fund announced by the Chancellor last Thursday.
“However, working together and debating the best schemes to put forward will not deter me from explaining and challenging decisions made by Government that affect Mansfield adversely.
“It is important that residents know that their council has suffered a £5m shortfall in funding during the pandemic.
"The Institute of Fiscal Studies’ analysis of the budget shows that the chancellor has introduced a stealth £4bn-a-year austerity cut to public services which, combined with the £13bn taken out of the budget in 2020, means local government once again has difficult choices to make in protecting services.
“So, despite disagreeing with the wider government strategy that pitches local councils to fight against each other, I will embrace and fully commit to work with our MP to ensure we optimise the opportunities of all the funding available to us.”
Mr Bradley described the cash boost as ‘really welcome’ and is hopeful more funding could be set aside for the district.
“This money is really welcome and a lot of people have worked very hard to make it happen so a big thank you to those involved,” he said.
"Some of the approved projects will give a big boost for both our town centre and local economy. The Levelling Up Fund opens also opened last week, so I am confident there is more to come.”
Chad readers have also had their say.
Philip Mitchell says the money needs to be ‘spent wisely’, saying: “We need to make Mansfield a destination of choice, but it has offer something different to Nottingham, Newark and Chesterfield.
“We need a masterplan – when you look at the empty old Beales building, or the White Hart Street development that has never gotten off the ground for starters.
"It needs a massive collaboration from all partners who want to see the regeneration of Mansfield. The money won't go far, so it needs to be spent wisely.”
Luke Newman also says that the key to lockdown recovery will be investment into small business.
He said: “I personally would love to see the money spent on creating more spaces, at reasonable rates, for small and growing businesses.
"During lockdown small business creation has soared off the back of unemployment in more traditional established businesses.
"If we want these to succeed long term there has to be more business units available for them to grow in future.”
“Not just office space though – we also need space for small industrial startups to thrive, at rates that won’t cripple them.
“Jobs, skills and entrepreneurialism are going to be key to the success of the area’s recovery.”