Lancashire Development Update C PNW

Lancashire's local authorities had to accept the devolution deal offered by government as it was the only deal available, said Cllr Phil Riley of Blackburn with Darwen Council. Credit: PNW

Lancashire Development Update | Summary + photos

Devolution was always going to be on the agenda at the latest annual Lancashire Development Update. The event was held at Deepdale Stadium, home of Preston North End FC, prompting Dan Whelan, deputy editor of Place North West, to joke that devolved government talks had been going on since the Lilywhites played their first game in 1888.

Lancashire Development Update was sponsored by Blackpool Council, Maple Grove Developments, LUC and Muse, and the charity partner was Regeneration Brainery.

Lancashire Development Update Featured Image for Event listing ()

Positive action

Whelan christened Lancashire the ‘land of opportunity’ as the likes of the Eden Project in Morecambe moved closer to fruition.

Si Bellamy, chief transformation officer, Eden Project, said he hoped the county could lead a strong climate change movement. On the massive scheme planned for Morecambe he said: “We want to break ground by the end of the year. There is a huge amount to happen before then but that is the target.”

He said the estimate was for 740,000 people a year will come to visit, there will be 500 construction jobs, and extensive supply chain opportunities. He added that Cornwall saw £2bn of economic growth since the creation of the original Eden Project: “Many small SMEs [that supply the Cornwall site] didn’t exist when we opened in 2001.”

All the panellists agreed that there was a collective piece of work to be done to ensure the entire region benefited from ‘linked trips’, keeping visitors in the area for more than the day they will spend at the new destination. Nicola Rigby, principal at Avison Young, said: “You need other authorities, other developments, to step up and create part of that story so it becomes not just Eden but Eden-plus.”

James Scott, director of Maple Grove Developments, said the spin-offs were already starting: “A great example of transformational change is we’ve got a site in Lancaster Canal Quarter and it’s a scheme that’s been bubbling along for some time. We are now in discussions with a hotel operator and that is a direct result of Eden.”

Quizzed on the climate theme, Scott said developers had a role to play in educating occupiers to show them how they can achieve the best possible standards, while Alan McBride, technical director for Muse, said he feared it was taking too long to see greener best practice like meeting Passivhaus standards spreading into Lancashire because of challenges achieving economic viability. Rents must go up to pay the green premium in construction.

Lancashire Development Update C PNW

First panel: James Scott, Nicola Rigby, Kate McClean, Alan McBride, Si Bellamy. Credit: PNW

Money talks

In terms of working with the Levelling Up Fund programme, Eden Project’s Si Bellamy added: “We have to make sure we can deliver, deliver, deliver and the challenge has been with construction-specific inflation which has been so high.”

McBride agreed. He said: “The biggest challenge is making developments stack up in terms of economic viability. We see that across the UK, though we always overcome it.”

Rigby added: “Public sector finances are the thing we are talking about most. I do a lot of work with local authorities around regeneration and what we’re seeing up and down the country is a really challenging environment in terms of investments that have been made and the performance of those investments. That’s starting to trickle into decision-making where authorities have government funding, but they need revenue expenditure to sit alongside it.”

In terms of council’s land ownership, she said: “Intelligent asset management across the public sector is a massive opportunity.”

Plan ahead

Kate McClean, senior strategic land and planning manager, Taylor Wimpey, said her company had benefited from the ‘abundance’ of plan making opportunities’ where boroughs have allocated land for housing. She added: “We do rely on a pipeline of developments and, particularly in the context of the new NPPF, that’s the only way we see strategic land being realised.”

Better use of surface car parks was a recurring topic throughout the morning, in Lancaster, Preston and beyond. Karen Hirst, managing director of Maple Grove Developments, used the example of Pioneer Place in Burnley which is home to a cinema and restaurants. She said: “It really has made a difference to the town.

“Common theme here – you need the public and private sector to work together, you need the funding to support these projects, to make ambitious plans happen.”

Lancashire Development Update C PNW

Second panel: Cllr Phil Riley, Cllr Lynn Williams, Cllr Phillippa Williamson. Credit: PNW

Devolution deal

Describing the devolution deal with Government, Cllr Phillippa Williamson, Leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “It’s fantastic news. We need to embrace the opportunity. Take the politics out; let’s be strategic. Get back in the game of economic development and all the opportunities that brings.

She continued: “The answer to that was to get on the devolution ladder. We know we have been missing out and so we took an absolutely obvious decision to come together, take what was on offer from the Government, and show that we could deliver by doing it in rapid time.

“The value of missing out in the next 20 years is about a billion pounds GVA [economic measurement]. What’s not to like?”

Whelan asked why there had been dissent from some of the Lancashire councils about doing a devolution deal. Chorley Council’s leader, for example, had said the deal was ‘not ambitious enough’.

Cllr Phil Riley, Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said turning down the deal would have been wrong for Lancashire and didn’t make any economic sense: “The simple issue is when you get 15 authority leaders in a room it is incredibly difficult to agree about anything.

“Mercifully the Government gave us an option that if the top three authorities, the unitaries, could agree then they were prepared to go forwards. The others are obviously going to be in it in terms of where money is spent and suchlike. It’s really important to make the point that there was no other deal on offer.”

Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “No-one is more parochial than me about Blackpool but we didn’t write the rules. It was either a ‘level one’ joint committee which wasn’t worth turning up for, or a ‘level two’ which we’ve agreed on. The ‘perfect’ is never going to happen because it’s clearly set out in the White Paper what is going to be available.

“This is the start of the process. It’s incredibly important for the delivery for them to be involved.”

Williamson said: “We will be agreeing with each other when the time comes to make decisions because we will have gone through so many processes of refinement and engagement. This is a real collective effort.”

Speaking from a non-political perspective, Scott said: “I think devolution is a huge positive. Bringing the money out of Whitehall into the regions is a great thing.”

On the subject of a mayor, Williams added: “I don’t think we’ve missed out. This is the beginning. It doesn’t prevent us moving to level three or four with a mayor. It hasn’t been ruled out.”

A question was put from the floor about a timeframe for Lancashire’s economic strategy. Williamson said this would be ready in September this year: “It’s part and parcel of doing the deal.”

Lancashire Development Update C PNW

Lancashire should make the most of climate positive impact projects, speakers repeatedly asserted. Credit: PNW

Mega merger

The event happened the morning after the announcement of the merger between Barratt Homes and Redrow, both big housebuilders in the Lancashire market. Kate McClean of rival Taylor Wimpey said: “It was a big shock. It will be interesting to see what the CMA [Competition & Markets Authority] says about it.”

Blackpool’s boost

McBride outlined the benefits of Blackpool’s new Civil Service Hub and said: “It’s a game changer. The real prize is economic regeneration – people in the centre of Blackpool and the spend they bring.”

In addition, Williams said her teams were also working on filling significant skills gaps with its Multiversity campus, something aimed at all age groups, created in conjunction with businesses. She added: “It brings 3,000 students, in addition to 3,000 civil servants, into the town centre.

“It’s about footfall, and maintaining that.”

Blackburn v Barcelona

Riley highlighted two major wins for his borough – the intention of Sheffield University’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to move to Darwen, and Perspex choosing the town over Barcelona.

He also mentioned plans to use a ‘chunk’ of Green Belt: “The opposition has been intense but we have run out of industrial land.”

Maple Grove’s Karen Hirst talked about her company’s work in the town too, jointly buying the former Thwaites brewery site with the council. Riley said Morrisons’ decision to move to the site meant they could also repurpose a site next to the M65.

Mark Kitts Tawd Valley Developments Lancashire Development Update c PNW

Mark Kitts outlined Tawd Valley’s priority projects for West Lancs. Credit: PNW

West Lancs revival

Mark Kitts, managing director, Tawd Valley Developments, detailed how his organisation was wholly owned by West Lancashire Council. He said the business had five objectives; tackling housing and economic imbalance, delivering opportunities for home ownership, reviving local areas, supporting under-served people and rising to the challenge of climate change.

He cited several success stories, including housing projects in Skelmersdale and Ormskirk, and said one of his next big projects would be focusing on estate renewal, demolishing aged bedsits and replacing them with family homes and apartments. He also said Tawd Valley was building bungalows, something much-needed in the area.

Skelmersdale’s redevelopment is a big council focus, particularly growing the evening economy and improving Fairlie, with a proposed major commercial scheme at junction 4 of the M58.

Lancaster and beyond

Jonathan Noad, chief officer for sustainable growth at Lancaster City Council described the largely rural 567sq km area he and his colleagues were working across and added: “You are never too far away from heritage and historic assets.”

He highlighted the wide variety of projects, including the Canal Quarter which he said doesn’t currently have the vibrancy of the city centre – something the council was planning to change. He said new housing in the Nelson Street area was a big part of this.

Noad also said the Bay Gateway development continues to provide a significant opportunity for economic growth, while Morecambe’s forthcoming Eden Project was described as ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’. And there was more good news for the seaside town with £3m being spent on the Winter Gardens – described as ‘the Albert Hall of the North’ – and the imminent appointment of a developer for the derelict Frontierland site. “The town centre needs to be Eden-ready in three years’ time,” he said.

Preston’s positivity

Hirst was excited about Maple Grove Developments’ involvement in the £45 million Animate project off Ringway, in partnership with the city council. Only two spaces for anchor tenants are left and it is due to open in 2025. She also enthused about Amounderness House, a former court building, empty for 20 years, which is being converted into SME workspace for. “It’s much needed in the city centre,” she said.

Adrian Phillips, chief executive of Preston City Council, described a “dynamic, confident, growing city” which was the “business and economic hub of Lancashire”. He said it was seeing £200m of investment and talked about “The Preston Model”, saying the city was the home of community wealth building through skills, training and employment: “We are relentlessly positive about Preston and its future.”

New housing was a particular focus. “We have identified 28 sites in the city centre for residential schemes,” he said. He also talked of The Ambition City Regeneration Plan which would strengthen cultural, leisure and retail, maximise on the cyber and innovation sectors and deliver a new commercial district and homes in the Station Quarter. The plans there include the first city centre office development in 25 years.

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All sounds very positive lets get a move on…

By Sylvia Welberry

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