Run-down city centres win pounds 900m in grants

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In a multi-million pound government package aimed at regenerating run-down town centres, the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, yesterday pledged pounds 900m in cash grants and approved a further pounds 600m priority borrowing schemes for councils.

The funding will result in a variety of projects, including improving housing and transport and facilities for young people. Schemes such as updating shopping centres and clearing land for industry will be boosted by public and private investment and aim to bring long-term jobs and prosperity to run-down areas.

But the awards met with criticism from local government associations who said that they did not make up for government cuts. The cash grants are part of the Government's Single Regeneration Budget Challenge, which is in its third year. The 180 new schemes, plus 370 already approved, are expected to generate pounds 7.5bn of private-sector funding, in addition to pounds 3bn from the Government over seven years.

Winning schemes chosen by Mr Gummer included a pounds 12m plan by the London Boroughs Recycling Consortium to provide every household in London with a recycling box for rubbish by the millennium. A spokesman for the consortium said: "This initial cash, though less than we hoped, is a good start to help boroughs get door-to-door recycling schemes off the ground."

There was pounds 9.5m for Stockport in Cheshire, which will receive pounds 5.18m to bring new life into its historic centre and can earmark a further pounds 3.75m for a scheme to improve the environment. And the Cross River Partnership in London was given pounds 11.6m for improving crossings along the Thames.

Mr Gummer told a conference in London yesterday the Capital Challenge scheme had allowed local authorities rather than government to decide the priorities. He said: "The schemes will support a number of economic development projects, with elements of local area regeneration and development, education and training projects, and expenditure on infrastructure."

However, the awards were criticised last night by local government associations who said they were too small - and left too many bidders disappointed. A joint statement by the Association of County Councils, Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said: "Money for regenerating local communities should be based on need, not competition."