“The real challenge is in making sure that levelling up isn’t just seen as giving the major cities what London has. It is also about how you move counties and districts into a position where people feel equal to those who live in larger urban areas in terms of access to services.”
The chief executive of West Lindsey District Council has called for the government’s levelling-up agenda to have a more rural slant to it.
Ian Knowles told Room151 that rural authorities had to rely too heavily on council tax rather than government grant, and that all government policies needed to be “rural proofed”.
“The real challenge is in making sure that levelling up isn’t just seen as giving the major cities what London has. It is also about how you move counties and districts into a position where people feel equal to those who live in larger urban areas in terms of access to services,” he said.
Knowles added that decision-making should take place at a “genuinely local level”, making better use of district councils working with town and parish councils.
“One of the ways to create that rural/urban balance is to make sure the decision making is at the lowest possible level and that is disaggregated to local communities rather than aggregated to a greater level.”
West Lindsey was successful last year in its bid for levelling-up funding and received just under £10.3m to help create a thriving Gainsborough town centre. This includes the construction of a cinema, restaurant and retail units, refurbishing the bus station, creating new homes above shops as well as restoring historic buildings, reviving Gainsborough marketplace and creating safe green spaces and a park that is accessible for children.
Knowles said that preparation for the bid had required ten weeks of planning by senior officers at West Lindsey, at a time when Covid cases were high and resources stretched, but the end result was of “outstanding” quality.
“We received massive support from stakeholders around the town – a lot of businesses signed up to support us, as did the college, university and chamber. We also had great support from Lincolnshire County Council, Sir Edward Leigh, our local MP, as well as strong support from our own councillors.”