What makes a great levelling up project?

Head of Funding Solutions Anthony Everitt shares his thoughts on what a great levelling up scheme looks like and how to maximise chances of success.

In February we finally saw the Government’s eagerly anticipated Levelling Up white paper that provides a legally binding twelve-point plan to ‘level up’ Britain. Its clear local projects that repurpose and enhance town and city centres will be a key factor in this process, but what does a good scheme look like, and how does a local authority enhance their chances of securing funding and getting to site?

Transformational projects

For me, the most prominent place to start is the project itself and the outcomes it will deliver. While the concept of levelling up is not new, this is the most high-profile level of accountability any government has given when targeting local investment. New building projects must be transformational.

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The Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees had clear, tangible local benefits as part of its proposal

One example is Willmott Dixon’s work at the Globe Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees. After more than 20 years of dormancy, the theatre burst back into life in 2021 after a huge refurbishment, allowing it to attract a diverse range of acts, from rocking out with McFly, to exploring the wonders of the universe with Professor Brian Cox. The reopening of the Globe Theatre has very clear economic benefits within Stockton-on-Tees Council’s wider development programme to generate an extra £18m annual boost to the local economy and build its own cultural sector.

The viability of future schemes like this will rest on the business case put forward to access a key funding stream such as Levelling Up.

Whether the project applying for funding will create much needed housing, or spaces and places for people to enjoy, like at The Globe, the bidder needs to demonstrate it will protect or create local jobs, generate inward investment, enhance local skills and bring tangible prosperity to the local economy. The impact needs to be clear and big.

Getting the business case right, and moving fast

When I review projects that were allocated funding during the first phase of Levelling Up, there was a direct correlation between demonstrating the project is credible and deliverable, and achieving funding success.

The central narrative of any business case is to show viability and the huge economic benefits it will provide a local area. The project also needs to move at speed, getting to site quickly and delivered at pace. The latter part is a key component of Willmott Dixon’s Development Solutions offering, allowing a local authority to work with a Willmott Dixon-led design team, achieve early stage cost certainty, complete all aspects of an investable business case, and provide fast procurement mechanisms via construction frameworks to take a project to site quickly.

The more a local authority can show their project has all the components to start building, alongside strong local economic benefits, the more likely their bid for funding will be successful. Having credible costs and a delivery programme will also help manage the authority’s risk exposure when they win the mandate to deliver the project.

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Sustainability should not be an afterthought in a bid

Finally, we shouldn’t overlook the UK’s NetZero ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Having a day focused on the built environment at COP26 showed the importance of sustainable construction on a global scale. Projects should look to embrace sustainable building best practice, such as Passivhaus design, the UK Green Building Council’s net-zero approach and include a plan to bridge the energy performance gap, so what is designed on paper is delivered in practice. The alignment with these objectives should not be an afterthought in a bid.

Be ready to go

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While the funding from Levelling Up offers a fantastic opportunity for new local authority developments, it is not a one-shot prospect and if funding is not secured during the second round of applications, all is not lost. My advice for a local authority is once they have a capital project they want to deliver, get it as ‘oven ready’ as possible, including good quality images of what the project will look and feel like, evidence the benefits, produce accurate costings and achieve commitment from delivery partners.

We know from recent history there will be other funding to go at - we already know there will likely be future waves of Levelling Up and we await details of the Shared Prosperity fund. The key for success will be ensuring you are ahead of the competition and ready.