'An appalling failure' - row erupts after town misses out on funding
- Credit: NNDC/ANTONY KELLY
A row has broken out after Fakenham missed out on £800,000 worth of funding which would have gone towards a new swimming pool.
Christopher Cushing, district councillor for the town's Lancaster North ward, said the result was an "appalling failure".
His comments have, however, been labelled as "surprising" by cabinet member Richard Kershaw, who claimed Mr Cushing - leader of the opposition - was part of the team behind the bid.
Fakenham and North Walsham had hoped to fund a number of projects, but missed out on money from the government's £220m Community Renewal Fund.
A total of 14 Norfolk projects were successful in their applications, receiving £6.5m between them.
But, in a lengthy and scathing attack on the Liberal Democrat-controlled North Norfolk District Council (NNDC), Conservative member Mr Cushing slammed the administration for being "devoid of ideas".
He said: “I am appalled by the failure of Sarah Bütikofer’s (NNDC leader) Liberal Democrat administration to secure an £800,000 Community Renewal Fund grant for Fakenham.
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“This would have had a hugely beneficial impact on the town. There were 14 successful bids totalling over £6.5 million elsewhere in Norfolk. Fakenham residents must wonder why other authorities manage to succeed while theirs fails.
“Sadly it comes as no surprise to me that the Liberal Democrats are so inept. They are devoid of any ideas to deliver any tangible benefits for the local economy.
“It is time they spoke up for north Norfolk to win inward investment and work with businesses to create jobs on a scale with our neighbouring authorities."
Mr Kershaw, portfolio holder for sustainable growth, has hit back at the remarks, saying that Mr Cushing was involved in the steering group for both bids and was fully supportive of them.
“Fundamentally, I found the comments made by Councillor Cushing surprising," he said.
"He was involved with preparing the bids, featured on the steering group, and was fully supportive of the bid at the time.
“We have written to MPs to lobby and try to find out why the bids failed, but it is surprising that councillor Cushing has rubbished the bid he supported.
“What needs to happen now for the people of Fakenham is to find out why the bids were unsuccessful so we can make future bids a success for the benefit of the town.
“This is also an attack on officers who worked very hard on a tight time scale. They are not inept; we have a phenomenal crew here and I find that very disingenuous.
“It is also a personal attack on the leader. You can attack the Lib Dems, but a personal attack is unfair.
"I would add that NNDC has been successful in winning bids for the North Walsham Heritage Action Zone (HAZ)."
While Fakenham's funding bid included walking and cycling infrastructure, river management and drainage, a feasibility study on a swimming pool was the headline-grabber.
Spearheading the campaign to bring a lido to Fakenham in recent years has been Richard Crook, chairman of Active Fakenham.
Despite his inevitable frustration at missing out on funding, Mr Crook pledged to carry on the fight.
“I am just very disappointed," said Mr Crook. "I will be looking at all the available options and will give a more considered response when I have spoken to the other people and organisations involved in the campaign.
“This certainly will not be the end of the campaign.
"I hope the local authorities will talk to us and we can work together about how we can get a swimming pool in Fakenham."
Gilly Foortse, mayor of Fakenham, said the town had long been the "poor relation" when it comes to receiving funding.
She is hoping for a different outcome if and when applications are made for other grants in the months ahead, such as from the Building Back Better scheme.
"Having worked so hard to come up with four projects that would have brought great benefits to our town, and waited so long for a decision, it was a real disappointment to hear the final result," added Mrs Foortse.
“However, we will continue with our plans and seek funds from other sources. In the longer term, we will continue to work with colleagues at North Norfolk District Council, Norfolk County Council and our MP, Jerome Mayhew, to seek funding for our town from government initiatives.”
What was Fakenham bidding for?
Fakenham Town Council was made aware of the Community Renewal Fund in April of this year, and formed a steering group to build funding bids for June 2021.
The scheme, which was set up to replace funding lost as a result of the UK's exit from the European Union, is geared at financing improvements to communities in need of investment.
Fakenham's bid proposed to commission a feasibility study on leisure facilities such as a lido or swimming pool, which has long been campaigned for in the town.
It also comprised potential investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, river management and drainage.
North Walsham's bid was for several studies in support of the North Walsham West Urban Extension proposal.
While 14 Norfolk projects were successful in their applications, critics said the £6.5m pledged - around half of the total applied for - was "a let down".
Brian Watkins, Liberal Dem group leader at the county council, said the money would do little to reverse years of underdevelopment of Norfolk's economy.