MP and council in West End ‘ruse’ row

David Morris MP.
David Morris MP.

The Morecambe MP and Lancaster City Council are at odds again over the West End of Morecambe.

A leading city councillor hit back after David Morris accused the council of letting down the West End – recently named the 80th most deprived area in the country in a Government report.

A hoarding hailing the arrival of the 'West End One' housing scheme in the Albert Road area.

A hoarding hailing the arrival of the 'West End One' housing scheme in the Albert Road area.

Mr Morris claimed the council had historically used the West End’s status as a deprived area “as a ruse” to obtain Government grants and then spent the cash in other areas.

The Tory also accused the Labour-led council of “blustering and delaying” over the Chatsworth Gardens housing scheme, which got under way earlier this year.

Coun Janice Hanson, deputy council leader, said the accusations “have no basis”.

Mr Morris said: “The West End of Morecambe has historically been in the top 10% of areas of deprivation in the country.

Councillor Janice Hanson.

Councillor Janice Hanson.

“Lancaster City Council used to use this as a ruse to get funding and in the past have spent this funding in other areas. Since being elected in 2010 I made sure that all funding for this area was ring fenced to be spent in that area only.

“The council have had millions in funding for the Chatsworth Gardens project but have blustered and delayed the project to the extent that the regeneration which will help the area has only just commenced. It will be interesting to see the statistic in the next five years after the road is up and running and the area has been restored.”

Coun Hanson replied: “Since Mr Morris only came to Morecambe just before the 2010 General Election it’s easy to see how he might have missed the hard work that the city council and the community have put in to regenerating the West End.

“His accusations have no basis and money meant for the West End has been spent as intended. I hope people will see his accusations for what they are – a deflection to avoid explaining the consequences of his own Government’s policies.”

Coun Hanson said £30m of public and private money was spent on the West End between 2003 and 2008.

Aside from buying up flats for the Chatsworth Gardens project, she highlighted the West End Gardens, Breeze café and housing at the former Heysham Road bus and illuminations depots as examples of council investment.

“This has had a positive impact and although there is still much work to do, the area has seen many positive improvements.

“After the 2008 financial crisis funds dried up which meant our ambitions had to be tempered, but this was due to national, and international, events that were outside of the council’s control.

“Amidst the chaos caused by the recession, many Government funded regeneration projects across the country were abandoned, but the city council has been steadfast in its desire to progress regeneration of the West End and the Chatsworth Gardens scheme, despite a number of setbacks outside of our control.

“The council continues to promote the regeneration of Morecambe’s West End and the fact we have secured a partner to develop the Chatsworth Gardens scheme is proof of this.”

Developers PlaceFirst began work on the £5.5m housing scheme, now renamed West End One in spring 2015. The first phase will see 29 empty former Victorian guesthouses on a site bounded by Regent Road, Chatsworth Road and Albert Road converted into a mix of 51 houses and apartments.

Neighbours have been frustrated by a number of false starts for the scheme over a decade, which allowed the houses to go to rack and ruin.

In February Mr Morris accused the council of “dishonesty” when a minister claimed they had returned £4.1m of a Government grant in 2004 intended for the housing scheme. The council denied this.

Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Communities and Local Government, told Mr Morris the city council was given £11.9m for the scheme in 2004, in addition to £1.9m they were given in 2012.

But the council maintains they were given £7.8m in 2004 and spent more than £5m of it on buying up houses on the Chatsworth Gardens site, £1.4m on other regeneration projects in the West End, and the rest on the project delivery team, the West End Masterplan and 10 years of council tax, insurance, security, environmental maintenance and essential safety repairs.