Levelling up projects across Bolton have been branded 'illusions' according to a new report.

A review by the National Audit Office says that spiralling costs and skills shortages have meant that projects all across the country are behind schedule.

Bolton has put in several bids for multi-million pound regeneration projects in recent years, several of which have failed, and this week’s review has added to claims by opposition politicians that the entire programme is illusory.

Bolton Council cabinet member for regeneration Cllr Akhtar Zaman said: “Levelling up is an illusion, it just doesn’t work.

“All of us are aware that our town centre is in need of attention and this council applied for Levelling Up funding to try and address this but was turned down.

“Now if that’s not levelling up then I don’t know what levelling up means.”

The Bolton News: Farnworth Leisure Centre has been hailed by the government as a successful levelling up projectFarnworth Leisure Centre has been hailed by the government as a successful levelling up project (Image: Farnworth Leisure Centre)

Cllr Zaman drew on examples where in contrast to failed bids like Bolton’s, better off areas had been granted funding for regeneration and improvement projects.

He said: “This is not levelling up, this is playing politics with the lives of people who are struggling to make ends meet.”

According to Bolton Council the Bolton Institute of Medical Sciences, funded by the Levelling Up programme, is set to be complete in 2024.

Towns Fund projects like the Ashburner Street refurbishment are already complete while Central Library refit, market renovation and Wellspring Innovation hub are all set to be done by next year as well.

Future High Street Fund projects like the expansion of Farnworth Leisure Centre are already complete, while the Farnworth Green development is set to be complete also in 2024.

All of this, along with the Streets for All plan, is on schedule in Bolton but across the country, the National Audit Office Review found that of 1,300 projects such projects, 64 had been completed but 76 were still yet to begin.

It also concluded that the original deadlines set by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities were “unlikely to be met” and that 50 per cent of the main construction contracts for Levelling Up Fund projects due to be completed by March 2024 had still not been signed a year before the deadline.

The review similarly found that the bulk of the money allocated to the projects had still not been spent and that only 14 per cent of the £1.6 billion allocated in the first round of the Levelling Up Fund in October 2021 had been spent by March this year, while 13 per cent of the money announced for “Town Deals” in 2021 had been spent.

One of the success stories hailed by the government has been the recent redevelopment of Farnworth Leisure Centre, delivered through the Future High Streets Fund.

But again, representatives in Bolton have said that this does not offset the impact a longer-term series of cuts has had on areas like these.

Cllr Nadeem Ayub, of Farnworth North, said: “We’re very grateful for the for the various government grants that have been given to places like Farnworth.

“But obviously that doesn’t make up for 13 years of cuts that we’ve had to our budgets from the Tory government.”

He added: “Obviously where Farnworth Leisure Centre is concerned, it’s a great asset that’s well used and we want it to be well used.

“But I have to reiterate that it doesn’t make up for 13 years of cuts.”

For the government’s critics, this points to wider issues about the government’s attitude to communities all over the country.

New Economics Foundation head of local economic change David Pendlebury said: “This report is damning and shows everything that’s wrong with the way Whitehall works, or refuses to work, with communities.

“The Government’s lack of trust in local authorities resulted in a deeply muddled approach to levelling up, in which cash-strapped councils were tempted with the promise of much needed investment, only to have their hopes dashed.”

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But the government claims that the figures used by the report are out of date and developments like the Farnworth Leisure Centre show how they can successfully work with councils around the country.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We have committed £13 billion to levelling up, supporting projects to improve everyday life for people across the UK, regenerating town centres and high streets, local transport and cultural and heritage assets.

“Major regeneration projects take time to deliver, but a number of projects have completed.

“This includes the redevelopment of the Farnworth Leisure Centre in Bolton, delivered as part of a £13.3m commitment to Bolton Council through the Future High Streets Fund.”