Burnley: Ambition feeds hunger for more investment

By Ged Henderson

26 Jan 2024

Burnley Hotspots Group

Burnley was the latest destination in our Hotspots tour. We brought business, education and local government leaders together at the Prairie Sports Village as we looked to discover the borough’s special recipe for attracting investment.

Present:

Richard Slater
Lancashire Business View, chair
Ian Bythell
Petty Real   
Michael Cavannagh
Trevor Dawson
Chris Forrest
TCB Designs   
Philip Jones
Calico Group   
David Kitson
Azets   
Lukman Patel
Burnley Council   
Karen Buchanan
Burnley College   
Leon Calverley
Door4   
Scott Chapman
Scope Fire and Security   
Helen Ingham
Donald Race and Newton Solicitors   
Wesley Kellow
Burnley Leisure Group   
Dharma Kovvuri
UCLAN   
   Chris Speakman
Speakman Contractors

 

The large new industrial site rising out of the ground on the outskirts of Burnley gives a strong indication of the continued appetite for investment in the borough.

Frontier Park Burnley, being developed by the Issa Brothers’ company Monte Blackburn, will support hundreds of jobs.

The speculative scheme, immediately off junction nine of the M65, is being built by Barnfield Construction. It follows the success of Frontier Park in Blackburn.

The emerging development sits next to Network 65 Business Park and opposite Burnley Bridge Business Park, which are now regarded as prime locations along the M65 corridor, where occupiers include big names such as Exertis and Vodafone.

Alex Kenwright, of Monte, says: “Our confidence in Burnley and the wider Lancashire area is illustrated by our commitment to the site.”

Logistics giant Exertis has created its national distribution centre nearby. Another flagship example of Burnley’s ability to attract inward investment.

Tens of millions of pounds have been invested in the site. The warehouse element of the building is big enough to fit five football fields within its walls and high enough to stand four double-decker buses on top of each other and still not reach the ceiling.

The town centre also shows signs of money being ploughed in to make a difference.

Alongside the continued work to transform Burnley into a university town there is the £23m Pioneer Place development, with its luxury seven screen cinema, which opened to customers in September.

Burnley football club also has a strong investment story. Former NFL star JJ Watt and his wife Kealia, who played ‘soccer’ for the US, have put money into the Turf Moor outfit.

So, what makes the borough such a magnet for investment? One word that comes through strongly talking to the business community is “ambition”.

Michael Cavannagh, from commercial property consultants Trevor Dawson, says the perception of the borough has changed dramatically, with its motorway connection and a can-do attitude playing big parts in that shift.

He says: “Burnley was probably seen as a bit of a backwater 10-12 years ago when it came to property. The council has been very pro-active and in 2013 the town was named the most enterprising place in the UK.

“The Burnley Bridge development was a game-changer. It proved that Burnley could be a location for big box occupiers.

“And now all of a sudden, we’ve got Frontier Park happening, which is a step up again.

Burnley is a destination, whereas it used to be seen as a bit of a cul-de-sac. You’ve now got huge companies such as Exertis here.

“Burnley has grabbed the opportunity. We would send details of a property in the area to agents acting on behalf of national and regional companies and never get anything back from them. That’s now changed.”

Lukman Patel, chief executive of Burnley Council, speaks of the “ambition” of the business community and the pro-active champions for the borough that include its highly-acclaimed Bondholders business group.

He says: “What makes Burnley absolutely brilliant and the place to invest in is the people and people do business with each other.

“We’re not working in silos as a business community. The Bondholders are a fantastic example of that, but it goes beyond that. We also have other fantastic businesses across the borough who really champion the place and in addition it’s a great place to live, work and play.”

He also points out the confidence the local authority has shown in the borough through the investments it has made. While other local authorities were buying properties in communities well outside their area or investing in the stock market Burnley took a “completely different step”.

Lukman says: “We basically said that we don’t know those markets, and secondly what message does that send to our business community, our institutions, our residents, if we ourselves are not investing in our borough?

“So, we took the bold move, high risk, to some extent, to invest in Pioneer Place, Manchester Road, student halls, and we even took a bolder step of buying our shopping centre.

“Probably not the most attractive in terms of returns but we can guarantee we’re showing the market that we are investing in Burnley.”

Chris Speakman of Speakman Contractors, believes local businesses like his have been boosted by the arrival of major operations like Exertis, gaining work from them that leads on to further opportunities, not just in Lancashire but nationally.

He says: “I’m not the only one benefitting from the hard work that’s done in the background to bring these large companies in. Before you know it, we have to employ more people, we have to train more people. It’s growth within growth.”

He adds: “A lot of it comes down to partnerships. The council, the college, those working on regeneration projects, they are all so accessible.

“It’s a very inclusive business community. For any new business that comes in there’s no hierarchy, it’s all, ‘Yes, come on in’. People talk and help each other out.”

Phillip Jones is director of new services at Calico Group. In terms of property services the organisation spends about £40m a year in the borough, refurbishing and rebuilding.

He says: “We get phenomenal support in terms of bringing schemes forward and attracting funding in.

“We have investors too in order to move our business forward. We have to convince banks and private investors that the town is worth what we’re asking them to pay and it’s not a difficult conversation. People want to invest in Burnley.

“Those investors are not just looking at the business plan we present, they’re interest in what the local authority is doing, the broader offer, the skills mix and the opportunity people have locally to move forward.”

Leon Calverley, director at digital marketing agency Door4, explains how the company returned to make Burnley its headquarters seven years ago, after moving to Manchester.

He says: “The world expects a marketing agency to want to be in the city centre, in a big glass box, we chose to come back to Burnley Walk, which is an exciting and regenerated part of the town.

“The council was instrumental in bringing us back. The council continually check in and we continuously speak to people in the local authority.”

Ian Bythell, of estate agents Petty Real, believes the town’s “fantastic” residential offering, coupled with its location, also make Burnley attractive to would-be investors.

He says: “Within ten minutes of the town centre, you can be in open countryside in any direction.

“It’s a fantastic location. We are within an hour of three major airports. We’re actually really centrally located so I can get into Manchester, I can get to Preston. The town also has the facilities to encourage its ambition to flourish.”

That accessibility played a major part in international accountancy firm Azets’ decision to move into Burnley some 12 months ago. Partner David Kitson says: “The reason why we effectively invested by getting an office, we’re on Network65, is in the large part connectivity. It is that accessibility, the ability to reach further.

“We do see a lot of confidence in our client base, which is predominantly around this area of east Lancashire.”

Wes Kellow, operations manager at Burnley Leisure and Culture, talks about the resilience he sees “throughout the town and the borough” along with first-class facilities and importantly the attitude to those working in them.

He explains: “It’s that friendly face, that smile when you walk in. It’s that personal touch that we can put on for absolutely anybody. And that’s across the leisure, tourism, hospitality and culture industry.”

Chris Forrest, managing director at TCB Designs, another growing business in the borough, sees momentum. He says: “Burnley is moving forward at pace now and no-one is slowing down.

“There are a multitude of reasons why the borough is attractive to investors but mainly it’s the people and the ambition.”

Scott Chapman, managing director at Scope Fire and Security, agrees: “It’s about the ambition, which then creates momentum. If you think about all the businesses we’ve got in the town now that are known nationally, that’s pushed it further.

“Burnley has real momentum about it now and that creates an energy. You can feel it.”

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