Hastings is one of just three towns in Kent and East Sussex – the others are Margate and Newhaven – that have been selected to bid for up to £25m each of government funding out of the £3.6 bn Towns Fund pot announced by Boris Johnson in the summer.

The government is “committed”, according to an announcement made by Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick last week, “to “levelling up all parts of the country. We created the Fund to help businesses grow, connect communities and give people the skills they need to succeed”.

As a first stage, Hastings Borough Council (HBC) is to receive from his Ministry (the MHCLG) a sum in excess of £173,000 by way of “capacity funding” to enable it to start establishing the processes needed to put together its bid. The initial step will be the setting up of a Town Deal board which is to be led by a “representative of the local business community”. Also on the board should be its MP (whoever that may be), one or more executives of SELEP (the South East Local Enterprise Partnership) and other members representing local government, “the community”, education providers and other businesses, large and small. 

Time is tight. “Readiness checklists” must be returned by the council to the MHCLG by 19th November, the board must be in place by January 2020, and it must have presented a Town Investment Plan by the end of the summer.

 The MHCLG has directed that capacity funding should be spent on convening the Town Deal board, but also on

• Running business and wider community engagement events;

• Developing a Town Investment Plan;

• Providing technical expertise for business case development.

There is a requirement of transparency, which will be welcome to some of HBC’s critics who complain of its preference for dealing behind closed doors. The council will be expected to publish the Town Deal board’s governance structure and ways of working – as to how, for instance, the board will engage stakeholders and agree decisions over time.

Further guidance will be issued by the MHCLG in early 2020 on the scope of investments that may be pursued and on business case development. Each town in the scheme will then put together its business case to apply for up to £25m funding to implement its Plan. 

HBC council leader Peter Chowney said: “The three themes of the Towns Fund for developing our Town Deal are a good fit for our existing local priorities, which means we have a lot of evidence to support the development of our deal:  urban regeneration; skills and enterprise infrastructure; and connectivity. However, £25m doesn’t go very far towards fixing these problems – the cheapest proposal to bring HS1 trains to Hastings alone would cost ten times that, so the money would need to be focused on a small number of key projects if it is to create a lasting impact. We would hope to use the fund as a catalyst to focus the efforts of our partners and ourselves on the continuing but uncompleted story of our regeneration.

“The timetable is quite tight; we have to assemble boards of local businesses, public bodies and community groups by January 2020, with investment plans produced by the summer. But we have some excellent partnerships in place already, and I am confident we can meet these targets.”

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