Government minister rejects offer to visit region after invitation from Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has rejected an invitation to visit two Northumberland towns which MP Ian Lavery says require urgent investment.

By David Sedgwick
Thursday, 16th June 2022, 2:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 16th June 2022, 2:53 pm
Ashington continues to be blighted with litter and fly-tipping issues.
Ashington continues to be blighted with litter and fly-tipping issues.

During a heated debate in the Commons last week, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said parts of his constituency had n ot benefited from Levelling Up cash, and invited Michael Gove to see for himself how much it was needed.

He said: “In my view, levelling up should be about people. It should be about individuals and families.

"Levelling up should be about tackling child poverty, pensioner poverty, fuel poverty and food bank reliance.

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, has called on the government to invest more in the region.

"It should be about employment opportunities, educational opportunities, health outcomes and life expectancy. It should not just be about shiny new one-off projects in towns that need a bit of a polish. I take this opportunity to invite the Secretary of State to visit me in my constituency and witness for himself the desperate need for some sort of levelling up finance.

"I want him to come to Northumberland and visit Ashington and Bedlington to see the holes in the centre of those wonderful towns, which are desperate for investment but have not had any for many years.

"I want him to walk through the streets of Bedlington and listen to the constituents who have been pleading for leisure facilities for many, many years but have not been given any.

"I want to take him to the Hirst area of Ashington to see the conditions that some of its residents live in, which many people would not tolerate.

The 'Ashington Hole' is still vacant two years after plans for a new leisure complex, including cinema and restaurant, were approved.

"They do not even have a suitable refuse collection, so there are bin liners on the streets, seagulls the size of jumbo jets, and rats right across where they live.”

"We need investment and support for these held back communities.

"In many of the places I have mentioned, people have to get the bus at 10 o’clock in the morning and return to the community by 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, because otherwise the bus service is not there to assist.

"I say to the Secretary of State, ‘Come along and join me. I am sure you will enjoy it’.”

But when asked by the News Post Leader if he planned to visit the area any time soon, a spokesperson for Mr Gove’s office said he did not.

They added: "We are taking decisive action to spread opportunity and investment across the country, boost local communities and create well-paid jobs.

"In the North East, £100 million from the Levelling Up Fund is being used to regenerate town centres, establish a construction skills academy and to build state-of-the-art sports facilities.

“Northumberland will also benefit from the £452 million Borderlands Growth Deal to improve regional connectivity across the region and strengthen cross-border links.”

In response, Mr Lavery said: “It is incredibly disappointing to hear that Mr Gove has refused to come to my constituency in person to see for himself the levels of deprivation in some areas of our communities and how held back and ignored it has been for so long.

“Levelling up should be based on experience not just statistics and numbers.

"Perhaps the reason he won’t come is that he will have to answer to my constituents about the level of damage done in their communities caused by successive Conservative governments for over a decade that he has played a central role in.”

Ashington town and county councillor Caroline Ball agreed the main issues were graffiti, fly-tipping, no bins in some streets, and some residents having to leave bin bags in the street on collection days.

She said: “Cuts in front line services and budgets across the board are now leading to a reactive service and overstretched staff.

"We need to be proactive and put pride back in to our towns.

"We need to reduce the cost of bulk waste collection and not just accept that budgets are getting squeezed so that’s how it is.

“In my opinion “Levelling up” is just a buzz phrase and a headline grabber, but the reality is we need more than an Elastoplast on the gaping wound of years of neglect in the north.”