Central Lancashire: The heart of the matter
Jennifer Gadson explains the one thing that became clear when she and her fellow Leyland Town Deal board members looked at the needs of the town: where, she asks, was its identity?
The government Town Fund cash of up to £25million that Leyland is now to receive will go some way to giving the famous Lancashire market town its identity back and create a new beating heart.
The award follows a funding bid submission made back in October 2020 by the board, chaired by Jennifer, who is a partner in Lancashire law firm Birchall Blackburn.
She says: “This is a fantastic opportunity, a once-in-a-generation chance to change the face of the town.”
Leyland became globally famous as the home of the motor giant that shared its name. Generations of local people have worked in the automotive industry building buses and commercial vehicles and Leyland Trucks still has a major manufacturing plant today.
Jennifer says: “The town always had a big identity with Leyland Motors but over the years it struggled to find a place really. We came up with the idea of giving Leyland its identity back.
“It was felt that the lack of a clear centre and no distinct sense of purpose meant that Leyland wasn’t fulfilling its potential.”
Central to the board’s vision is the creation of a new town centre – a hub for local people, a place that would attract workers and something Leyland could be proud of.
The radical revamp has at its heart a new market square on the site of the existing market car park.
This is a fantastic opportunity, a once-in-a-generation chance to change the face of the town
A “focal point” for the town centre, it will incorporate a new building to define the revamped area, potentially with bars and restaurants on the ground floor – to develop the night-time economy – and apartments above.
Public realm improvements, including a ‘shared space’ street design and better connectivity between the town centre and its rail station are also part of the plan.
Leyland’s market will also be transformed, with a refurbishment, upgrade and expansion to grow its “presence and perception” in the town centre. There are plans for new stalls to create a wider food and drink offering.
The regeneration blueprint includes a Business Advisory, Skills and Enterprise (BASE) hub in a new building – with a rooftop terrace – on the site of the Iddons factory, next to the market car park.
It would include flexible meeting and events space, along with a café that could be converted into a bar during the evening. Units would be provided for new and existing small businesses, plus a “digital literacy” area for skills training and a proposed recording studio.
The proposals have added importance because of the role they will play post-Covid as Leyland looks to build back from the pandemic.
Jennifer says the aim is “to make the town a place, not just where people want to live, but where they want to work.”
Like many of Lancashire’s smaller towns, Leyland is competing not just with neighbouring communities but the big cities of Manchester and Preston. That competition is tough.
Jennifer explains: “We discovered some businesses were struggling when it came to recruitment because of that competition.
“Our view was that if we could make Leyland a better place it would help businesses in their recruitment and also increase footfall in the town, something that would also be of benefit economically.
“There is a lot of competition between the local towns and we want Leyland to be an alternative to Preston or the Trafford Centre, which potentially could lead to night-time activity as well.”
The next stage of the process is a planning application for the new building and the delivery of a detailed business case analysis of the proposals to the government.
Adrian Walsh, senior software engineer team lead at Leyland Trucks and board member, believes the investment plan will have a long-term impact on the appeal of the town for future investment and describes it as a “landmark moment”.
He says: “It will go a long way to supporting current residents, families and employees alike to get more from their local area, and to create a thriving future for the generations that come after them.”
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