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Regional investment plans revealed
The Government is today setting out plans for £5 billion of investment in building homes, improving transport links and opening up new training opportunities in projects across England.
Ministers said the spending - to be allocated to local authorities and businesses through a series of local "growth deals" - would create thousands of jobs in the regions and help re-balance England's over-centralised economy.
The investment - from the £2 billion-a-year local growth fund - will not kick in until after the general election and will cover the five years from 2015/16. It comes on top of the £1.1 billion already allocated to projects in the first year of the next parliament.
Officials said that it was expected to lead to work on over 150 roads, 150 housing developments, 20 stations, as well as providing skills training and small business support services throughout the regions.
Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine - whose growth review last year led to the creation of the local growth fund - hailed the announcement as "a giant step in the rebalancing of our economy".
Prime Minister David Cameron - who is leading a series of regional visits by ministers - said the growth deals would help kick-start the economy in cities, towns and counties in every part of England.
"For too long our economy has been too London-focused and too centralised. Growth deals will help change all that," he said.
"They are about firing up our great cities, towns and counties so they can become powerhouses. By trusting local people, backing business and investing in infrastructure, skills and housing, we can create thousands of new jobs."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who chairs the local growth cabinet committee, said: "We are ending a culture of Whitehall knows best. Decisions over spending on infrastructure, business support and housing are being made at a truly local level.
"It will help end our over-reliance on the banks and the City of London, and generate growth, jobs, and ambition in towns and cities all across England."
Projects covered by the growth deals include a number of large-scale schemes such as £18 million to revamp the Metrolink transport system in Manchester and funding for Birmingham to help the city make the most of HS2 high-speed rail link.
However there are also many smaller schemes including a £1m project to create the Silverstone Metrology Centre in Northamptonshire - a high precision measurement facility for hi-tech businesses - and a a glass academy in Sheffield to train people to work in the city's glassworks.
James MacColl, campaigns director of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Today's announcement includes many good projects but motoring-orientated decision-making in some Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) continues to put discredited road-building schemes ahead of the transport communities really want, which is joined up, accessible travel choices.
"Road developments declared unfit years ago are still threatening green space and clean air."
He went on: "We welcome investment such as the £200 million for bus schemes, and £18 million revamp of Manchester's Metrolink, but it's just not enough.
"Commitment to projects for new and widened roads has actually increased this year, from 65% to 73% leaving public transport, walking and cycling with an even smaller share of public funds.
" More public consultation, transparency and linking of rail, roads and local transport planning are needed if LEPs are to deliver transport that's good for people and for our environment. National government must provide support to prioritise smarter, sustainable transport planning."
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said the Government announcement "falls far short" of Labour's plans to devolve £30 billion in spendings to the English regions.
"The Tory-led Government came into office promising to rebalance the economy and spur regional growth, but instead we've seen things go into reverse as regions and local areas have been held back. We need to see growth built on the talents of all and producing better-paid, high-skilled jobs in all parts of the country," he said.