Blackburn with Darwen: Axis tilts towards prosperity

It is called the Blackburn Growth Axis – and if those with the vision get it right it could deliver more than 10,000 new jobs and over £500m of private investment.

The proposition, which will be unveiled to the market and the wider public later this summer, is breathtaking in both its ambition and its diversity.

Identifying a wide range of development and job-creating opportunities, it takes in advanced manufacturing, logistics, health, culture and housing.

There is a desire to leverage the strategic value of the nearby Enterprise Zone at Samlesbury and the Frontier Park logistics and industrial park at junction six of the M65 – attracting more development and businesses.

The overall vision also includes the opportunity for the private sector to build 1,500 new homes in a ‘North Blackburn Housing Zone’.

In Blackburn town centre, the aim is to build on the success of the emerging cultural quarter and to bring forward ambitious plans for the development of the former market and Thwaites brewery sites, with new workspace and urban living opportunities.

Martin is confident there will be interest. He says: “We believe that it is the largest town centre development opportunity between Manchester and Glasgow.”

Haslingden Road is earmarked as a ‘commercial corridor’ with a health innovation campus or medical park project to link into the Royal Blackburn Hospital’s development plans and more investment opportunity linked to junction five of the motorway.

We believe that it is the largest town centre development opportunity between Manchester and Glasgow

All this won’t happen overnight. The Blackburn Growth Axis is a 10 to 15-year timetable of development growth, linked to a robust Local Plan, and as Martin Kelly, Blackburn with Darwen’s director of growth and development, says: “It is at an early stage.”

He reveals that the council was working hard to develop and deliver the proposal when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Now it is looking to restart that work and to share it publicly later this summer. Martin says it will be part of the borough’s economic recovery position as the UK emerges from lockdown.

At present private investment is the key to the vision becoming reality, with the support of the right public infrastructure.

Martin says: “We will accelerate our plans with new public investment, but we will work our way through this. We know there are investors keen to work with the right opportunities.

He also points to the investment that has already been pumped into the heart of the town, including a new cinema and the emergence of the cultural quarter around the iconic King George’s Hall area.

The axis proposition will also look at work to entice major investment linked into advanced manufacturing at Samlesbury and logistics at junction six of the M65.

Martin says: “We’re going to work to benefit from the halo effect of these major investment locations and dovetail with our critical mass of activity.”

Martin, who arrived at Blackburn with Darwen from County Hall, where he held a similar role, says the borough has the desire and ability to deliver. And he points to its recent economic record.

He says: “In the last three years, up to the Covid-19 pandemic, the borough has attracted 5,000 new jobs and nearly 1,500 new homes have been built.

“Business start-ups have also been really strong. There is an entrepreneurial spirt within Blackburn with Darwen that you don’t see in many other towns.

This provides a level of resilience in these challenging economic times and a strong platform for future growth.”

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