The prospects for another wave of European gap-funded development across the North West appear significantly weaker under the latest funding regime, officially launched today.
Only schemes that pass tightened criteria based on transport accessibility and sustainability will be eligible for gap funding in the future, according to the new set of rules in place until 2013.
The launch of the programme for the European Regional Development Fund in the North West took place in Liverpool's St George's Hall this morning, with speakers from regional, national and European government bodies outlining the blueprint for spending.
The expected change in emphasis from physical regeneration to the so-called Lisbon agenda of competitiveness and innovation was repeated throughout.
Jose Palma Andres, director of the DG Regional Policy at the European Commission said: "It is no longer just a question of building the science parks but now it is even more a question of filling them."
Speaking after the main event, Pernille Kousgaard, head of European policy at the North West Development Agency, said: "Whether it will be likely that gap funding for city centre offices looks the same as it has done previously – probably not.
"However, we are looking at the sites that will get the investment and these will be judged on accessibility, closeness to public transport and their ability to deliver."
Kousgaard also revealed that the list of regional strategic sites which governs much of the agency's investment activity is also under review. The current list of 25 sites is likely to grow following the review by GVA Grimley which is due to be published in the coming weeks.
The new ERDF programme is worth £521m to the North West, with £212m of this for Merseyside's allocation under a ring-fenced programme of its own. The amount of grant a project may receive, or 'intervention rate', is a maximum of 50% of the project's total cost.
Four priorities will govern the operation of the programme, for the first time being handled by the North West Development Agency rather than Government Office for the North West.
The priorities are:
- Stimulating enterprise and supporting growth in target sectors and markets
- Exploiting innovation and knowledge
- Creating the conditions for sustainable growth
- Growing and accessing employment
The targets for the end of the programme are to have created 26,300 net new jobs, as well as £1.17bn of additional GVA annually and 500 hectares of brownfield land reclaimed and redeveloped.
Merseyside's special status post-Objective One (deferred for the previous two funding rounds due to the area's weaker GDP) means that infrastructure projects such as rail, road and environmental improvements to gateway including Edge Lane and Birkenhead's freight corridor will still qualify.
Liverpool politician Cllr Flo Clucas, a member of the ERDF Programme Monitoring Committee, said the new regime posed potentially worrying spending deadlines.
The rate of spend on Merseyside is front-loaded with 55% having to be spent in the first three years or face being returned.
The delegated power enjoyed in the regions for managing the funding has also tightened. Where previously any grant under £50m could be signed off locally, now those over £10m must be referred to central Government for approval.
- The full programme spending plans can be downloaded at a new website, www.erdfnw.co.uk. Applicants wanting to discuss applications, which may be made from 3 March 2008, are advised to contact their nearest NWDA sub-regional partner: Cumbria Vision, Lancashire Economic Partnership, Cheshire & Warrington Economic Alliance, The Mersey Partnership, or Greater Manchester Forum.