Labour leader Keir Starmer visits Stevenage town centre to discuss regeneration
- Credit: Archant
Keir Starmer chose Stevenage as his first public visit since being elected leader of the Labour party to talk about how towns can be successful after the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Starmer, who announced his candidacy as Jeremy Corbyn’s replacement when he last visited the town, was back to see how the regeneration of the town centre was developing and spent the morning talking to local traders.
In answer to the Comet’s question of whether Stevenage Borough Council’s £1 billion plans to redevelop the town centre looked foolhardy – when there is likely to be a recession and increased borrowing costs – the MP for Holborn and St Pancras said: “No. I think this is an incredible regeneration project.”
He continued: “I’ve come to see it today and I’m impressed. This is all about the future and having a town centre that will be revived. It will be a place people will want to come to. The last thing we need in an economic crisis like this is to abandon projects like this. If anything, they need to be brought forward so that we can focus on jobs, jobs, jobs for the future!”
The Labour leader also said that the Conservative government “was letting down“ Stevenage Borough Council – which could become effectively bankrupt if a Section 114 notice goes through.
An emergency budget centred around cost-saving measures has been put in place by the council to help ease pressures.
Mr Starmer highlighted the promise by the Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick that councils would be bailed out for coronavirus expenses such as food parcels, care homes and schools.
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“Now the government is being slow on the support they need,” he added. “Whether its Labour councils or Tory councils they are all saying the same thing. Make good on your promise because there is now a £10 billion shortfall.
“Otherwise councils face bankruptcy or cutting services, which is the last thing anybody needs in a health and economic crisis.”
On whether he though he could win previous Labour seats in Hertfordshire – such as Stevenage, St Albans and Welwyn Hatfield – Mr Starmer acknowledged he had “a mountain to climb” and “lost the last election badly”.
He added that “strong leaders” need to go out and listen in places like Stevenage and Hatfield to local people and their concerns.
Walking around the town centre and the Stevenage Indoor Market, he discovered people had “enthusiasm and pride in the regeneration”, but traders were very worried and had used up their “personal savings” to survive during lockdown.