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Sedgefield borough council’s annual allocation for the working neighbourhoods fund has been set at £2 million—substantially more, it has to be said, than it
11 Mar 2008 : Column 264
received from the neighbourhood renewal fund. That funding will provide a further boost to the regeneration efforts of the area and should directly link into the capital investment and other investments planned for Newton Aycliffe town centre.

An improved, more economically active town centre in Newton Aycliffe, close to a revitalised Aycliffe industrial estate, promises investment, jobs, and better opportunities for communities. I know that local partners want to factor in a vibrant town centre in their broader strategies for renewal.

I do not want to dictate the way in which local councils and community groups should allocate that additional funding, but they could, for example, set up job advice and skills schemes in the town centre and in the community buildings that are being built. Financial incentives will be available to local authorities that are successful in reducing worklessness. I hope that such a co-ordinated approach will help ensure that Newton Aycliffe town centre has a vibrant future.

My hon. Friend mentioned his belief that town centres do not exist in isolation, and that their connection to local jobs and housing markets is crucial to their sustainability. He also mentioned his hope that we will address and learn from the lessons of the past about the new growth points and eco-towns.

Growth points are key to concentrating future growth in existing urban centres. They can also act as a successful catalyst for improving areas and town centres. With that in mind, my hon. Friend may be interested to know that the Durham housing and neighbourhoods board has submitted to the Government a bid for a new growth point in the south and east Durham areas. Newton Aycliffe is included in that bid as a key urban centre and focus for significant housing and economic development. I would like to tell my hon. Friend that we will make an announcement on the growth point bids that have been selected for development shortly, and I am sure that he will take a keen interest in that.

Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I pay tribute to the work that he has done in brokering an acceptable deal for the regeneration of the area, and assure him that the Government will continue to invest in areas that require assistance in regenerating and revitalising communities such as those that he represents in Newton Aycliffe.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Eleven o’clock.

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