I am delighted to write about the wonderful news that Hereford has been awarded £22.4 million from the Stronger Towns Fund. I got a hint of it when I welcomed the Secretary of State for Housing, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, to open the terrific new Shell Store at Rotherwas a week before the announcement.
£22.4 million is the highest award in the region, and testimony to the superb work of our Towns Fund Board, supported by Council officers, over the last twelve months. It will help us to build the stronger economy and the even stronger communities we all want in Herefordshire.
When I was first adopted as a candidate for Parliament in 2006, I did a serious piece of analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the local economy. I came to the conclusion that we as a county could not afford to rely on housing to generate long term growth, as so many other places seemed to have done.
At best, housing was a 2% a year growth strategy, when what we really needed was something double or treble that, over a long period.
We needed skills, we needed infrastructure. We needed to attract and nurture entrepreneurs who could build high value businesses with skilled employees and better pay.
Above all, we needed a strategy that combined Herefordshire’s economy with its massive core strengths— its gorgeous countryside, its heritage, its tourism, its arts and culture, the river Wye—into a clear single package.
Now, for the first time, the Hereford Town Plan has pulled such a package together for the city—and the Government has recognised it with a commitment of new funding, to support enterprise, skills, green transport and a host of other things.
And this new money is the latest in a series of major investments in Herefordshire over the past decade: in the Enterprise Zone, in fast broadband, in the hospital, in the GP medical centre and in NMITE, our pioneering institute of technology and engineering education.
I count more than £100 million overall, which is astonishing. In turn, it should trigger further private investment, in a virtuous cycle.
There is a historic opportunity now to put our county prominently on the map. We should aspire to be nothing less than the best place in this country to live in, to work in, to invest in, and to bring up a family. That is both a worthy ambition, and one we can achieve.