HOUSING regeneration chiefs on Merseyside remain upbeat about completing the New Heartlands renewal programme, despite a Government decision to scrap existing funding next March.

New Heartlands, one of 10 Government initiatives across the country, is tasked with regenerating the inner Merseyside area by tackling low-demand and poor-quality housing markets - usually in some of the country's most deprived area.

The programme started in 2003 with the expectation of running for 10-14 years.

But the Government announced last week that the bespoke funding for the renewal programme would be discontinued from the end of next March.

Grant Shapps, Minister for Housing and Local Government told Parliament: "I have visited pathfinder schemes on many occasions and some were very good and some had problems.

"We will complete all the committed Housing Market Renewal schemes and then we will roll the funding up into the regional development fund to continue the good work."

The regional development fund was launched by the Government towards the end of last month and has a budget of £1.4bn over the period 2011-2014.

Funding will be allocated over three competitive bidding rounds and the Government acknowledge that the switch to competitive allocation will create uncertainty for residents and regeneration partners in the short term.

The delivery teams in Wirral, Liverpool and Sefton are continuing to engage with registered social landlords and the private sector to ensure progress in renewal areas where long-term decline has been experienced.

Brendan Nevin, interim managing director of New Heartlands, said: "New Heartlands, residents and the three local authorities all remain committed to finish the housing market renewal programme. We will seek to increase the resouces coming into the area through dialogue with central government and developing innovative approaches to funding new development.

"The Audit Commission recently noted that the pathfinder was 'performing strongly' - the highest category of performance. We are therefore well placed to secure resources through competition."

Cllr Chris Blakeley, Wiral Council cabinet member for housing and community safety, said: "We mustn't leave anything half finished. There will be no stone left unturned to make sure we finish what we started. Anything less would be crazy."

He went on: "We know it will be tough. We have to look at what opportunities come our way. We need to look at innovative ways to deliver these houses."

New Heartlands works closely with Wirral, Liverpool and Sefton councils and other partners, including the Home and Communities Agency, private developers, housing associations and residents.

The homebuilding plans are only one aspect of the programme which also includes job creation, social regeneration and community building, tackling crime and anti-social behaviour and boosting prosperity.