The council is to enter into a joint venture with the development arm of Eric Wright Group, that would see the acquisition and redevelopment of a key site within Blackburn’s town centre regeneration framework.
Under the plans, Blackburn with Darwen Council would become a 49% minority shareholder in a special purpose vehicle alongside Maple Grove Developments as the majority owner holding 51%.
Maple Grove has already secured exclusivity to purchase the seven-acre brownfield site on Penny Street from the vendor, Daniel Thwaites & Co, after the brewery business vacated the site in 2018 and relocated to purpose-built premises at Mellor Brook in the Ribble Valley.
Demolition of the buildings at the original Thwaites brewery commenced shortly afterwards and the plot was fully cleared by last year.
Blackburn with Darwen will consider the proposal to co-fund the acquisition and redevelopment of the site at at its executive board meeting next week. The proposal is expected to unlock further planned regeneration of the town centre and support the borough’s post-Covid recovery plans. The value of the deal was not specified.
A report to the executive ahead of the meeting on 1 February said: “The site is ideally located and has the potential to have a significant impact on boosting the vitality and vibrancy of Blackburn Town Centre, providing opportunities for a range of redevelopment options including land for new businesses, leisure or housing, and inward investment for the borough.
“The minority shareholding by the council will help to ensure the site is master planned and delivered in a way that maximises positive outcomes for the local area, and also to allow a holistic strategy to be developed, to include the adjacent council-owned former Blackburn Markets site and other council assets in the area.”
Maple Grove is a partner on Blackburn’s Growth Framework of selected contractors. If the proposal is approved, the JV partners would work to draw up a renewal strategy for the site and prepare it for redevelopment. The site does not yet have planning permission and the JV partners did not disclose any details of a potential scheme.
The aim is to masterplan the project in a way that “maximise positive outcomes for the local area”, the council said – in particular, by including the adjacent council-owned former Blackburn Markets site and other council assets earmarked for redevelopment as part of the wider Blackburn town centre regeneration strategy – a key plank of the Blackburn Local Plan, on which the council is consulting at present.
In 2018, the council announced its intention to release the former Blackburn Markets site in the north eastern part of the town centre to a developer to progress a retail-led, mixed-use scheme, but this has not yet happened.
The market and the neighbouring Exchange office building were demolished in 2013, and the site has been used by the council as a 250-space car park since. There are six other plots around Blackburn town centre earmarked in the council’s town centre supplementary planning document as critical to the town’s future, including the Thwaites brewery site.
The others are the Cathedral Quarter; Northgate and surrounds; Wainwright Way and surrounds; Fabric Borders around Victoria Square, and Barbara Castle Way north of the town centre.
The Thwaites JV would help to unlock further regeneration in these areas, and the plans would also see the preservation of the historic Fleece Pub on the edge of the site, according to the council’s report.
Cllr Phil Riley, executive member for growth and development at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “This is great news for Blackburn Town Centre. The joint venture will ensure we can facilitate comprehensive development across the former Thwaites site and other council land assets.
“Thwaites’ has a longstanding history with the borough, of which we are very proud. Thousands of our residents and family members will have worked or will know someone who has worked for Thwaites over its 200 years. We want to preserve those links and recognise the legacy it leaves with the borough.”
Jim Francis, property director for Daniel Thwaites, added: “We are particularly pleased to be working towards securing new owners for our old brewery site in Blackburn, who can realise its potential for the future and create a new era for it, in its central position within the town.”
And Andrew Dewhurst, development director for Maple Grove, said: “We look forward to bringing our expertise to this flagship site. We have a longstanding relationship with the council and are proud to be playing a part in attracting new opportunities to the area.”