Can Chorley be the gateway to Lancashire?

The approval last week of a £12.9m investment in Chorley town centre could be a sign that the Council’s strategy to offset budget cuts with investment is working.

In July last year, the leadership of Chorley Council announced its plans to split from Lancashire County Council and become a unitary authority. However, this has lost momentum after Lancashire County Council refused to take part in discussions about the proposal on the grounds that the money could be better spent working on a combined authority. This has coincided with the Council’s launch of Choose Chorley; a campaign to attract business investment in the area, which appears to have won some significant success.

In 2013, the Council paid £23m for the main shopping area of the town centre, Market Walk, and it was estimated that the Council would make a profit of £0.5m on the revenue from the leasing out of units. At the end of 2014 it was announced a £1m profit had been made, and this money has helped the council to maintain public services despite a reduction of its central government grant. The plans had been called a gamble, and there is no doubt that the borrowing of such a large amount of money by a local authority is a risk, but it appears to have paid off for Chorley, and the approval of the latest development is a sign that the Council is confident the town will continue to attract investors.

Lancashire was noticeably not represented in George Osborne’s recent Northern Powerhouse trip to China and, given the apparent friction between the borough and its county, Chorley Council appears to be taking matters in to its own hands. On the Choose Chorley website, it highlights access to Manchester before Lancashire, which suggests where its leaders view future investment coming from. A seminar is also being held next week in Manchester which will feature development opportunities available in Chorley.

Other authorities in Lancashire have invested heavily in order to attract further investment, such as Pendle’s Brierfield Mills development, but Chorley appears to be positioning itself as the link between Greater Manchester and the rest of Lancashire. With a Lancashire Combined Authority still being some way off, Chorley could make itself a major player in any future discussions if continues to attract investment and improve its links with Manchester.

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Good on them. Why should they wait around for the Lancashire County behemoth to trudge into gear? A unitary structure for sensible economic Lancashire Districts and binning off the County is the way forward in my view. Have a ‘skinny’ Lancashire tier as a ‘combined entity maybe but not much more.

By Sceptic