Morecambe’s Eden Project North, Lancashire’s City Deal, housing delivery targets, and city-centre living in Preston were all under the spotlight in the latest in Place North West’s development series.
More than 200 people attended the event at the Mercure Blackburn Dunkenhalgh Hotel on 24 January.
Speakers at the event included Adrian Phillips, chief executive of Preston City Council; Karen Hirst, managing director, Maple Grove Developments; Kate McClean, senior strategic land and planning manager, Taylor Wimpey; Stephen Young, executive director, growth, environment, transport and community services, Lancashire County Council; Kieran Keane, assistant chief executive of Lancaster City Council; and Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director, Blackpool Council.
Also speaking at the event were Gregg Stott, deputy chief executive, regeneration & growth at South Ribble Council; Melissa Kurihara, associated director at LUC; David Cox, director of David Cox Architects; Alex Kenwright, development manager at Frontier Park; Neil Thornton, director, Etc Urban; Michael Ahern, chief operating officer at the University of Central Lancashire; and Melissa Conlon, commercial director at AMRC.
The event was sponsored by the Preston, South Ribble & Lancashire City Deal and LUC, and was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh.
Stephen Young of Lancashire County Council started the event with a presentation on the Lancashire City Deal. This adds £1bn a year and leverages £2.3bn of private investment, to create 20,000 new jobs and 17,000 new homes.
Young said the Lancashire Central site in Cuerden would be “the jewel in the crown” for the region and was the largest mixed-use development site in the North West, with progress here expected “in the next few months”.
There has been and will continue to be significant investment in infrastructure via the City Deal, including the Preston Western Distributor, due to come forward in the next 12 to 18 months. Young added there was potential for a “£1bn investment” in and around Preston railway station ahead of the arrival of HS2, including a complete remodelling of the station and commercial development at the site.
City deal and devolution
Young then joined a panel featuring Melissa Conlon, Karen Hirst, Adrian Phillips, and Gregg Stott.
- Hirst admitted the announcement that Ikea would be pulling out of Lancashire Central, where Maple Grove is a development partner, was a “body blow” to the scheme
- However, she added: “[Ikea] was only ever 10% of the site, and it’s still a fantastic site with a brilliant location – as a team we need to make it move forward. It’s a case of when will it be ready, not if, and we are hoping this year is the year, and it will really put Lancashire on the map”
- Young said getting infrastructure projects off the ground was “not as straightforward as just working through £420m of funding” but Lancashire still had aspirations to continue a wide-ranging road-building programme
- Stott said green infrastructure, as much as road-building, was a key part of the city deal for South Ribble: “It’s about opening up parks, adding leisure and recreation facilities, to attract people into the borough as well as serving residents”
- He added the borough was focussing on its growing SME businesses and supporting these with new space and opportunities for them to expand: “people get lured into the investment market to attract a big new player which can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but we want to focus on our SME base, and if we can attract big players, we will”
- Phillips said devolution was still “a real priority” for the region with leaders from each of the local authorities meeting on a monthly basis.
- “We are acutely aware of the need to be unified to work towards devolved powers – the combined authority ambitions are still very much there,” he said
- Conlon said the region would continue to be “at the forefront of aerospace and engineering” but highlighted the need for companies to remain productive and globally competitive. More “clustering” of companies around tech hubs and advanced manufacturing was identified as a key opportunity
Following a networking break, Melissa Kurihara of LUC took to the stage to run through the different housing targets, and how these had been delivered, across Lancashire’s different local authorities.
These have varied significantly with Chorley the only district to achieve its housing target, particularly helped by the delivery of Buckshaw Village.
Housing targets varied too: Blackburn’s Local Plan has a target of 9,365, the highest in Lancashire, while Hyndburn has the lowest at 3,200. Five-year supply is also significantly different with Blackburn and Preston having under five years, while Hyndburn, Lancaster, and Wyre each have more than 10 years.
Meeting housing targets
A panel discussion then followed featuring Kurihara, David Cox, Kate McLean, and Neil Thornton.
- Thornton said he was “frustrated” at not seeing more residential development in Preston, like there has been in Manchester and Liverpool, with residential property prices “far too low”. However, he argued pushing up prices would make schemes more viable and lead to more “high-quality” accommodation in the city
- Cox agreed, arguing that viability was impacting the city but added this was “not necessarily a bad thing”; Preston’s role as a smaller city gives it “the chance to experiment a bit more” with a wider mix of housing targeted at different groups including families and key workers
- Kurihara said housing delivery has been impacted by some Local Plans being agreed before the recession, with partnerships need “to work out why delivery is slower than anticipated”
- “We need conversations around why some consents take so long, speeding up Section 106 agreements, and more funding for infrastructure to help sites come forward”
- McLean said there was “a need for large housebuilders to deliver the homes the country needs”, with Taylor Wimpey working on a masterplan for a site in Penwortham. She argued that building affordably “comes with a degree of standardisation” but there was an increasing focus on placemaking from large housebuilders.
- However, Cox argued local distinctiveness would “never be achieved if we’re building the same homes in Lancashire as we are in Yorkshire”.
- “Buckshaw Village is awfully depressing, there are cars everywhere, and there are better ways of designing streets,” he argued.
- “The thought of a child cycling down a street in Buckshaw Village fills me with horror – public realm between the houses is just as important as the houses themselves”
A presentation from Kieran Keane, assistant chief executive of Lancaster City Council, then followed.
He outlined some of the major projects coming forward in the borough; these include the Eden Project North, with early feasibility studies showing the scheme to bring the Eden Project to Morecambe Bay would be viable. The borough is currently supporting design and planning, and the project could start on site by 2022 in a £62m construction programme.
At the Canal Quarter, which has been proposed for nearly 20 years, the council has decided to move away from retail to bring forward a mixed-use development; a refreshed masterplan for the site is expected to come forward in the summer with the council looking at interim uses in the meantime.
The Bailrigg Garden Village south of Lancaster is longer-term, with the housing site reliant on a Housing Infrastructure Fund bid which is expected shortly. This will also include a remodelling of Junction 33 of the M6.
The final panel discussion then followed including Keane, Michael Ahern, Nick Gerrard, and Alex Kenwright.
- Keane said Lancaster Council would “manage risk” by splitting the updated Canal Quarter masterplan into phases with its retail offering “repurposed” rather than being ditched altogether. He added there was potential for a hotel, a university campus, and a commercial offer on the site
- Kenwright said Frontier Park, which is being developed speculatively, is an example of “if you build it, they will come”; he argued that “bringing a product to the market quickly” was vital with businesses “needing to make decisions” on where they can grow
- “We have had lots of interest coming from the local market, especially those in property that’s not fit for purpose or dynamic growth; providing bespoke fit for purpose space can help companies to grow,” he said
- Gerrard said a planning application for the first part of the £300m Blackpool Central site would go in at the end of this year; this will feature a multi-storey car park. The wider site is set to house a leisure scheme which he said would “extend the staying period of visitors and increase visitor numbers” in Blackpool
- Ahern outlined UCLan’s investment in Preston, with a large swathe of the city set to be “reinvented” in four years’ time with the Engineering Innovation Centre, a public square, and a student centre.
- On graduate retention, he highlighted the need for a wider range of workspace in the city centre; start-up businesses are being created but often these need more space to grow into
The presentation slides can be accessed below:
Click any image to launch gallery