Row over Government's £20m Gipton cash snub rumbles on

The issue of Fearnville Sports Centre is not going away for the Government, after a Leeds MP offered to meet Chancellor Rishi Sunak to thrash out a deal for its proposed £20m revamp.

Wednesday, 3rd November 2021, 4:45 am

It follows the government’s snub of Leeds City Council proposals to spend £20m of so-called “levelling up” fund cash to transform the facility in Gipton into a wellbeing centre, and opting instead to spend on road improvements around Calverley and Horsforth.

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Leeds MP Richard Burgon calls out Government's £20m Gipton cash snub as he vows ...

But the Government would make no such commitment, instead inviting the council to bid on future levelling-up funding pots.

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Leeds East MP Richard Burgon. Photo: Getty Images

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Burgon said: “If the rhetoric of levelling-up is going to be a reality, then the bid from Leeds City Council to upgrade and redevelop Fearnville Sports Centre is exactly the kind of bid that should be agreed.

“Local people were shocked when, the day after the budget, the leader of Leeds City Council received a letter from the government turning down this bid.

“The Chancellor is sat there – will he step forward now and agree to meet with me, the leader of Leeds City Council James Lewis and local residents with a view to actually approving the council’s bid for the upgrade?”

As part of his budget last Wednesday, the Chancellor announced more than £180m of “levelling up” schemes across England, following bids from individual local authorities.

Proposals for Fearnville included 5,000 square metres of new space, including a six-lane pool, small training pool with water confidence area, fitness gym, studios and outdoor fitness areas. The council put in the bid for the funding back in June, and it was hoped final plans for the scheme would be drawn up by the end of this year.

IN OTHER NEWS: LGI and St James' Hospital issue urgent update on 'very busy' A&E capacityMr Sunak did not respond to Mr Burgon’s question, but exchequer secretary to the treasury Helen Whately (Con) said: “I thank the honourable member for his question. It gives me an opportunity to remind him that his area is receiving hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in transport infrastructure.

“We look forward to receiving further bids, for instance, for future rounds of the levelling up fund – we are delighted to invest in constituencies like his.”

The Government announced its levelling up fund would provide £187m for 10 projects from the first tranche of allocations from the fund.

The successful bids included a scheme to improve roads around Pudsey, with junction improvements at Fink Hill, Horsforth roundabout and at Calverley Lane; new pedestrian and cycling facilities along the Ring Road; and new pedestrian and cycle crossings.

The Government also announced £830m in transport funds for West Yorkshire, though the leader of Leeds City Council since claimed some of this is to be money for road maintenance that local authorities would have received anyway.

Speaking after the exchange, Mr Burgon said: “The Government’s denial of the levelling-up funding bid to redevelop the Fearnville Leisure Centre into a modern Wellbeing Centre in East Leeds is unjust and unfair.

“Today the chancellor added insult to injury by refusing my request to meet a delegation of East Leeds residents, the Leader of Leeds City Council and me to discuss the bid and explain to him why he should change his mind.”

IN OTHER NEWS: Have your say on major plans aimed at improving Leeds outer ring road“It’s clear the Tories are not interested in communities like ours here in East Leeds.”

“The Tories found billions to give bankers a tax cut. It’s time they changed their tune and backed this £20 million bid for East Leeds.”

“I will continue to raise this on behalf of our area and will be campaigning with local residents to get the Government to back this bid.”

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