Under normal circumstances, the news that Herefordshire is to receive £19.9 million from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund would have sent me into a jig of unrestrained rejoicing.
After all, hundreds of bids were submitted across the country, and many dozens of MPs from every political party in Parliament were greatly disappointed that their local bids were not funded. So for this county to have almost £20 million for investment in Hereford was a tremendous win. And all the more since it comes on top of the Stronger Towns Fund investment of £22.4 million less than two years ago.
The new money will be directed at improving connectivity in the city and funding the new transport hub to be established at Hereford railway station. Hereford station is a hidden gem, but the site badly needs investment. The idea of a transport hub bringing trains and buses and cycling together in a gateway development for the city and the county has been around for ages. So it is great news that this is now in line for central government support.
Yet I must say I had very mixed feelings. We had also put in a bid through Herefordshire Council to fund the creation and development of a new Enterprise Zone at Model Farm outside Ross-on-Wye, and that had not been funded. One cannot have everything, least of all under the current difficult economic circumstances. But that was still a blow.
However, I have strongly encouraged the Council to press ahead with the Model Farm development. Ross is a beautiful town with great connectivity, but it needs more high quality enterprise land and incubator space for new businesses. The Model Farm site lies in the middle of the technology, defence and security triangle formed by Cheltenham, Malvern and Hereford.
The plan would involve a partnership with our new university project NMITE to raise skills, and would draw on the brilliant team that has built up Hereford Enterprise Zone so effectively over the past few years.
Ever since I became a parliamentary candidate in 2006, and still more since I was elected as MP in 2010, I have been pushing for a countywide economic development strategy based on building up investment, skills and higher education. A new Ross Enterprise Zone at Model Farm would be a very worthy addition to this strategy. One way or another, we must make it happen.