Harrogate Convention Centre’s £20m Levelling Up bid 'lacked evidence'

A £20m Levelling Up bid for the redevelopment of Harrogate’s convention centre failed because it lacked “evidence and rationale” into how the proposals would increase business.

North Yorkshire Council has now provided the feedback report that says why it was rejected, after the government previously declined to do so.

The now-abolished Harrogate Borough Council missed out on the funding earlier this year and it led to questions over how the planned £49m refurbishment of the ageing facility will be paid for.

During the first two rounds of the fund, 834 bids were submitted by councils but only 216 were successful.

The government scored each bid out of 100 with criteria including deliverability and the characteristics of each place.

The feedback describes HBC’s bid as “relatively strong” and cited stakeholder engagement and the project’s deliverability as positives.

In the bid, the council argued that upgrading HCC’s facilities will boost event numbers and increase the amount of money they can generate.

But the government said the evidence behind these assumptions was not sufficient.

It said: 

“The bid set out why the intervention was expected to address the identified problems but there was a lack of supporting evidence and rationale.

“The bid could have been strengthened by incorporating more evidence to support the assumptions linking outputs to outcomes and impacts, e.g., it would have been good to understand whether there was unmet demand for this type of space, and how the increased capacity of the centre would address the problems identified.”

Harrogate Borough Council paid consultants £49,000 to draw up the bid but the feedback said the benefits laid out in its report “could have been overstated”.

It also said it wanted more details on how the project would improve wellbeing.

It added:

“There were only environmental benefits monetised; with no attempt to monetise other categories of benefits that would be typical for this type of proposal, e.g., wider Land Value Uplift, potential wellbeing  benefits from arts/culture, etc.”

The government is expected to soon welcome bids for a third round of its Levelling Up Fund worth over £1bn and the council has indicated it may try to bid again.

The new owner of the building, North Yorkshire Council, will make a decision on whether the redevelopment project goes ahead later this year.

By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter