Professionals working across Lancashire discussed how local authorities are adapting to meet the challenges of the biodiversity and climate crises while driving development, at a Place North West event.
An update on Eden Project North, devolution of Government powers, and staycation tourism post-Covid were discussed across two panels at the event sponsored by LUC, Blackpool Council, Lancashire County Council and ClearFibre, and hosted by Place North West publisher Paul Unger.
Presentation – Landscape thinking: natural capital, nature networks and biodiversity net gain
Sofie Swindlehurst, associate ecologist at environmental consultancy LUC, gave an overview of how local authorities in Lancashire could use net-zero carbon strategies to tackle the looming biodiversity and climate emergencies.
“The important step is to have a common strategic vision for the climate response and nature recovery response,” Swindlehurst said. She emphasised the importance of partnership working across the county.
“We need cohesion between sites to optimise contributions to the collective benefits we can get within Lancashire.”
Melissa Kurihara, chartered town planner at LUC, highlighted projects LUC have undertaken recently that reflect this shift. Last year, for example, LUC was asked by Blackburn and Darwen Council to identify what contribution its local plan could make towards the local authority area achieving net-zero carbon status by 2030.
Panel 1 – Gauging the impact of development
Chris Hayward, director of development and housing, Preston City Council
David Harland, chief executive officer, Eden Project North
Phil Jones, director of new services, Calico Homes
Sofie Swindlehurst, associate ecologist, LUC
Speakers discussed how councils and property developers are ramping up efforts to meet environmental challenges and targets through the planning process, drawing on thoughts from LUC’s presentation. In addition, panellists updated on key development projects taking place across Lancashire, and how they can boost local economic growth.
Swindlehurst noted that many local authorities are considering projects’ viability with regard the biodiversity net gain target, and said it’s a careful balancing act between ensuring development go ahead, and keeping it sustainable.
“Some local authorities are facing really challenging conditions with designated sites or very urban areas that are struggling to deliver their biodiversity obligations,” she said.
Seeing a shift in attitudes towards environmental and social responsibilities among its customers over the last year has spurred Calico Homes to adapt, too.
“It’s much more than just building houses now, it’s thinking through the broad social impact,” Jones said. “That’s pushing us to think, ‘How do we change our delivery models?’”
Preston Council has set up a working group, Hayward says, to investigate what measures it can take through local planning policy to become carbon neutral by 2030.
“We’re in the process of producing a central Lancashire local plan,” he said, adding that it’s around three years from completion.
Hayward also mentioned the Preston Partnership, comprising around 100 businesses, plus the council, which has produced a city investment plan. Among its objectives are to deliver a new transport plan and affordable homes.
Harland said he hope the £125m Eden Project North project, which is currently in the design phase and scheduled to complete in 2024, would have a significant positive impact on the local economy. One way it would do this is by buying at least 80% of the goods and services locally. He welcomed Swindlehurst’s earlier presentation about individual impact adding up to the greater good.
“What the world needs is a bit of holistic thinking,” Harland said. “We’re becoming increasingly specialist. We probably know more about the outer wing flap of a fruit fly than we perhaps do about our whole ecosystem, at times.
“Twenty-odd years ago, our buildings were seen as highly innovative, the mantra at that time was ‘do no harm’. That mantra is no longer acceptable; we have to do good as we move forward.”
Presentation – Defining Lancashire
Stephen Young, executive director of growth, environment, transport and community at Lancashire County Council, gave an overview of the economic development projects taking place across the county.
These include the Salmesbury enterprise zone, the £15m Academy for Skills and Knowledge, and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which is planned to feature 1.5m sqft of advanced manufacturing and office space.
“The vision for this site is to be a centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and digital technologies,” Young said.
He also discussed the Preston Western Distributor road, which aims to deliver 17,000 new homes across central Lancashire and 20,000 new jobs, to boost the economy of central Lancashire by £1bn a year.
Panel 2 – Broadening economic prospects for Lancashire
Melissa Conlon, commercial director, AMRC
Gary Goodman, land and planning director at developer BXB
Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director, Blackpool Council
Stephen Young, executive director of growth, environment, transport and community, Lancashire County Council
Conlon said the Advanced Manufacturing Centre, set to open in Samlesbury in September, would demonstrate a range of smart building technologies. “All retrofittable – so manufacturers can retrofit them in their own settings.
“The vision is to demonstrate how the use of connected assets for a facility can provide information in respect of real time and historical energy usage.”
“We want the building to be a test ground for local innovation,” she added. “Local inventors of low carbon technologies can come into the building and we’ll support the development of those technologies.”
Gerrard outlined details of a new regeneration programme in Blackpool, which aims to diversify the economy by creating jobs across numerous sectors, and regenerate the town centre, which is “tired and in need of refreshment”.
“The objective is to extend the season and encourage more overnight stays to support the economy and break the cycle of seasonality,” he said.
A new conference centre will be completed in Blackpool this year. “With this, there’s a need to radically improve the town’s hotel product too. There are about 600 high-quality hotel room – mostly four and five star – being built or under construction at the moment.”
On the issue of how Lancashire can accommodate UK holidaymakers following pandemic-imposed restrictions and uncertainty, Gerrard said: “It’s almost [like] coming out of a theoretical nuclear explosion to see what’s left, who is going to reopen.”
Young agreed that the notion of a staycation is important for Lancashire. “We’ve been working with marketing to develop with a post-Covid recovery strategy and how we could market Lancashire to the staycation market.”
The panel also discuss the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and devolution.
Gerrard said he hopes the planned Levelling Up fund will target lower value areas in the North and Midlands, which are currently penalised by the existing appraisal systems for the distribution of government funding.
Lancashire would also benefit from greater devolution, Young said, for which the council has been vying.
“If the Government could find a way, in terms of doing a devolution deal, perhaps with an elected mayor within the existing system, there may be a way Lancashire can get to a point where we have one devolution deal,” he said.