MP Matt Western has labelled a £1billion government pot Leamington is in the running to receive a share of as a “pre-election bribe”.
The government’s Future High Streets Fund has shortlisted 100 towns to develop plans to reinvent their high streets.
Leamington was selected for its proposals to improve the old town area. the town centre, and its waterways, and will now be given £150,000 to develop its bid.
The town will then be eligible for up to £25million of funding to invest in infrastructure, housing and work spaces to bring long-term economic benefits. It could also see business rates cut.
Warwick District Council’s business spokesman Coun Alan Rhead welcomed Leamington’s inclusion.
He said: “The council is very pleased the proposal we made in partnership with key stakeholders including BID Leamington, Leamington Old Town Traders and Leamington Town Council for the Government’s High Street Fund has been successful.
“Leamington town centre is prosperous and has many unique assets, however, the council and our partners have identified a number of challenges and changes we will face in the coming years that would benefit from this government support and strategic funding.
“Although we don’t yet know the amount of funding we will be allocated, we hope that this initiative will be a catalyst that will help to shape our plans to build a resilient and sustainable future for our town and at the same time draw on the innovation and creative talent of our community.
“The next step will be to work our partners, stakeholders and the government over the coming year to prepare a more detailed plan. The intention of the government is that this work will inform a second funding proposal focused on delivery, that will be made at a later date.”
But Warwick and Leamington MP Matt Western dismissed the fund as a “pre-election bribe that should be taken with a pinch of salt”.
He said: “Of course, it is important that our high streets are supported with a cash injection but the problem is blindingly obvious – business rates are way too high and the government has succeeded in making councils overly dependent on them to fund local services. This is not sustainable!
“But this town scheme scam is all too reminiscent of the Mary Portas funding under the Conservative-LibDem Government which, similarly, provided a sticking plaster when major surgery is required.
“Instead of a short-term bribe we need a bold vision to revitalise our high streets in the long-term and to review business rates – that is what I have been calling for on the Local Government Select Committee.
“We need to tackle empty shops on our high streets by giving local authorities the power to hand over retail units that have been empty for over a year to start-ups and community projects.
“Not only this, but we need to roll out free wi-fi on all of our high streets and provide community hubs such as post offices with the support they need to continue operating.
“All investment is welcome, but it is also vital that we bring about a genuine long-term strategy to revive our high streets that encompasses a review of business rates, accessibility and infrastructure instead of cynically throwing money at the problem just before an election.”
Other successful towns included Nuneaton, Dudley, and Scarborough.