Empty promises and spinExclusive David Ottewell
MANCHESTER'S `pay off' for its scrapped supercasino can today be exposed as a package of rehashed plans, spin and empty promises.
The government had indicated that exciting new developments employing 1,600 people in the deprived east of the city would be put on the table yesterday.
But a letter explaining ministers' true intentions, exclusively leaked to the MEN, fails to guarantee a single new job.
The three-page document, sent on Monday night from Hazel Blears to council leader Sir Richard Leese, is a patchwork of previous announcements and suggestions for the future of the site at Sportcity - with no promises of financial support, or guarantees they will go ahead.
The revelations sparked a furious reaction against Ms Blears and prime minister Gordon Brown in Manchester last night. It follows confirmation in the House of Commons that the supercasino, which would have created 3,000 jobs in one of Britain's most deprived areas, would be axed.
Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said the city had been “completely let down” and accused Gordon Brown of going back on his word.
“There is not a single new job and not a single extra penny. It boils down to absolutely nothing. It is spin and hot air. They are simply pushing this into the longest grass."
"The prime minister promised action on would be taken when we met him last year. What happened today means absolutely nothing has been done."
Culture minister Andy Burnham said plans for 16 smaller casinos in other towns would go ahead.
But though he promised a regeneration package worth nearly £300m for Blackpool, which LOST to Manchester in the race to host Britain's first supercasino, it is understood £250m of this had already been announced – and spent.
One senior political source said Ms Blears, who was ordered to look into alternative forms of regeneration by Mr Brown last year, had failed in her task. "She has done absolutely nothing on this for the last 10 months. It is unbelievable.”
Another insider close to the Manchester bid said: “She has shown no interest in this at all. I'm not sure she would have done anything if she hadn't been kicked up the backside.”
Ms Blears' letter does confirm that a ministerial group – made up of seven cabinet members, including Ms Blears – will be set up to “help identify and develop a range of regeneration alternatives to regional casino-led regeneration”.
But it warns: “It should be understood that the arrangements for a ministerial group do not mean that Manchester will receive special treatment when it is competing for support and funding.”
It confirms English Partnerships will put £10m into the site at Sportcity where the supercasino, worth £265m to the area, was earmarked to be built. That will pay for clear-up and preparation work ahead of any project the council is able to progress.
Top of the town hall's wish list is an Olympic-standard BMX centre, a new rugby union stadium and a “House of Sport” for elite athletes. But while two of those are mentioned in the letter – the bike centre and House of Sport – Sir Richard is told only that they would be “fully considered according to the appropriate appraisal and business case evaluation processes when they are submitted”.
The letter goes on to trumpet a number of previous announcements and old news. Those include: A suggestion that the government would “investigate” improvements to the rail network around Manchester, originally announced by transport minister Rosie Winterton last October; Plans to create space for an extra 4,100 train passengers in peak periods – first announced in a white paper last July; A bid by Manchester health chiefs to create a cutting edge medical research facility worth £3m a year – rejected by the government in December 2006, but resubmitted months ago at ministers' request.
The letter does not promise that any of those measures will actually come to fruition.
Government sources suggested on Monday night that the area could get an extreme sports centre with facilities for scuba diving and white-water rafting. The MEN understands those are ideas the council has not put forward and does not recognise.
They had also indicated ministers would throw their weight behind Greater Manchester's bid for £3bn of transport funds in return for a local congestion charge of up to £5 a day. But Ms Blears' letter says only: “The Department for Transport is assessing the merits of [the bid], as it would any bid, against the criteria set out in its published guidance.”
The letter says education chiefs are to undertake a study “to identify demand” in east Manchester and “consider” options.
It mentions plans for “live” training at a real hotel in the city as part of a National Skills Academy for Hospitality. That bid – which had already been drawn up – will still need to go through the normal “formal appraisal process”, Ms Blears says.
Tony Lloyd, MP for Manchester Central, said today: “This is hugely disappointing. Manchester won the competition to site the casino in an open and independent process because it demonstrated the greatest capacity to use the regional casino in terms of the creation of jobs – jobs which could be accessed by local people.”
Sir Richard said he was “very disappointed” but said the council would continue to work to create jobs in east Manchester. He refused to be drawn on whether the council would go through with its threat to seek a judicial review of the government's decision – which could prove a major embarrassment to the government and delay plans for the smaller casinos.
It is understood senior council leaders were due to meet with legal advisors today.
Simon Ashley, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the council, accused Mr Brown of “selling Manchester out”. He said: “Labour's casino alternative plan is pure spin. It's a sham. Gordon Brown has single handedly stopped the creation of 3,000 jobs and £265m of investment in East Manchester. He has sold Manchester out.”
Ms Blears said: “This £10m boost for Sportcity will unlock huge sporting potential in east Manchester and attract visitors from across the UK and beyond. It is another piece of the jigsaw in Manchester's regeneration success story, and can help to create new jobs.”
"The new ministerial group will also ensure that success continues well into the future by giving the government's support to city leaders as they drive forward new jobs, more skills and better transport for our communities.”
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