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Highland Council bidding for UK government Levelling Up and Community Renewal Fund shares

By Gregor White

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Highland Council has submitted bids to two government funds.
Highland Council has submitted bids to two government funds.

Highland Council has submitted funding bids totalling more than £80 million to the UK government.

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out details of the Levelling Up Fund in March the council was advised that they could submit one transport bid and one bid for each of the three Westminster constituencies.

The deadline given for the bids to be submitted was today.

At a full council meeting on May 13 it was agreed the transport bid would centre around the delivery of improved roads and other infrastructure for communities and visitors along the North Coast 500 route, tied in with an expansion of Electric Vehicle Charging Points.

The project that has been submitted is for the development of infrastructure needed to support the continued growth of the NC500 tourism route, and to ensure that the increase in tourist usage does not impact on access to the key employment sites that lie on the route.

The council says that, to achieve this, the bid includes investments in road and bridge improvements at 10 key sites along the 500-mile route where challenges around congestion and safety have been identified.

It also includes investment of £7.4 million in electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, public transport interventions and active travel interventions.

Tourism site accessibility improvements have been included to spread the economic benefits of the route more evenly across the north Highlands and minimise the impacts of inappropriate parking. This will include improved roadside parking and improvements to access routes to tourist attractions as well as traffic flow monitoring equipment.

The bid for the Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross constituency is to create investment, employment opportunities and population growth in Wick and the wider Caithness area, focussing on Wick becoming a centre for offshore renewable energy operations and encompassing various interlinked projects such as infrastructure works on the Wick Harbour outer seawall to attract further investment to the port, physical regeneration of the town centre and other active travel and environmental improvement projects.

The bid for the Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency is a major cultural and environmental regeneration project in the heart of Inverness, centred around linking up Inverness Castle, the Northern Meeting Park and Bught Park.

Under the banner of the Inverness Zero Carbon Cultural Regeneration Project the bid brings together the delivery of three complementary projects that, combined, the council says will drive the environmental, cultural and economic regeneration of Inverness.

The council says the projects, located along the river in the heart of the city, will provide new cultural opportunities for residents and visitors and create more accessible space with a proposed integration of renewable energy sources delivering economic benefits to local businesses and helping meet the UK and Scottish Governments’ zero-carbon targets.

The Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency bid is to create a comprehensive regeneration scheme to develop the gateways to Fort William and Portee. This will include investment in physical regeneration of cultural and heritage assets as well as the important transport-related assets of Portree Harbour.

However due to time constraints and the work required to prepare a comprehensive and credible case, the council has decided that the development of this bid will continue and it will be submitted at a later round, expected to be in the autumn.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said: “We are in a competitive process, so a lot of work has gone in to making sure our bids are really strong and focussed and fit in with the criteria.

"Firstly, I want to thank our staff, our partners and our communities for working together in a very short timescale to bring a huge amount of work together.

"The bids reflect our ambition, the aspirations of our communities and our commitment to making a difference.

"Now more than ever we need this injection of funding to kick-start our economic recovery and to promote growth.

"After dealing with the many challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought we need to move forward and see regeneration and investment on the ground in our communities.”

Meanwhile the UK Community Renewal Fund (UKCRF) is predominantly aimed at revenue projects that can be completed by March 31 next year.

The UKCRF is competitive and the Highlands have not been classed as a priority area meaning all the region's bids submitted must meet a threshold score of 80 per cent across set criteria to be shortlisted.

Priority areas have a scoring threshold of 50 per cent and are expected to form the majority of successful applicants.

A total of 17 applications were received for UKCRF support and after all were assessed against the criteria by the council, seven were shortlisted:

  • SCVO - £228,285
  • Georgemas Hydrogen Hub - £114,744
  • We are Radikl - £92,750
  • Dornoch ACIC - £57,132
  • Fort William ‘Links to the Water’- £50,000
  • Great Trails in Highland Communities - £118,000
  • Russian Arctic Convoy Exhibition - £115,864

The UK government is expected to make decisions on bids from late July onwards.

Chairwoman of the economy and infrastructure committee, Councillor Trish Robertson, said: “I want to thank everyone who put forward a project. The criteria and timescale to submit bids has certainly been challenging.

"All the seven shortlisted projects have had to prove they are deliverable within the tight timescale of eight months following a decision being made and are a strategic fit to other key investment priorities such as developing skills, creating employment opportunities and directly benefitting communities and businesses.

"Totalling £776,755.61, the strong seven bids reflect a significant amount of money that could bring much-needed invested across Highland communities.”

A report will be discussed during a full meeting of Highland Council on Thursday.

The report is item 11 on the agenda and is available here

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