No match funding is in place for part of Watford’s Levelling Up Fund bid, according to draft budget papers.
The Westminster government selected the borough council’s £16 million town centre scheme for a cash boost in a decision announced last November. However, the cash is yet to arrive with the Hertfordshire authority. When it does, Watford Borough Council must top up Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) money with funds from its own coffers.
Local finance chiefs have £4.38m in their draft 2024/25 budget to fit out The Colosseum, due to open this year, which will top up a £7.787m Levelling Up Fund grant. But there is no money to match fund the government’s £8.235m boost for a new innovation hub and small business grants programme – which the authority will need £4.465m for.
“The full budget for delivery of Colosseum [sic] is already included within the council’s Capital Investment Programme as part of the Town Hall Quarter programme,” a budget report reads.
“It is funded by £2.4m of Community Infrastructure Levy [cash contributions from developers] and borrowing.
“However, there is currently no budget for the innovation hub and small business grants.
“Funding for the innovation hub will require a business case and the council will seek to work with DLUHC to reduce the level of match funding required given the council’s financial position.”
The DLUHC money means the authority will borrow less for The Colosseum project, which has been undergoing improvements since 2022.
This unlocks the capacity to borrow for the innovation hub and the wider Town Hall Quarter programme, according to the report. Watford’s Liberal Democrat cabinet members agreed to support the budget proposals at their meeting on Monday, January 15 ahead of a full council meeting later this winter.
There is £2.499m in the medium term set aside “to pump prime and maintain the operation of the refurbished Colosseum, which is expected to be completed in autumn 2024 subject to confirmation of the refurbishment timeline” – before the venue becomes “self-financing” after 2029/30.
Promoter AEG Presents will manage The Colosseum when it reopens – the same company which runs the Eventim Apollo (Hammersmith Apollo) and Olympia West Hall in London.
Part of the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings was recorded at The Colosseum and One Direction debuted their first-ever Up All Night tour at the venue. The borough council’s capital budget also features a new £15,000-per-year fund for minor repairs at Watford Market and a £7.399m cash injection for Croxley Business Park.
Pavilion works at Woodside Park are delayed to 2026/27 and 2027.28 which means the authority can ‘save’ £5.269m in the year 2025/26.
A DLUHC spokesperson confirmed officials “understand that projects may have developed since they were originally submitted” so the department is “working with local authorities to understand the level of change to projects, and ensure that projects remain value-for-money, deliverable and a local priority”.