Lancashire has a massive opportunity to get fully behind the county’s 2050 long-term strategic plan and to build a prosperous economic future.
A new and growing sense of unity and partnership is already starting to make a difference, Lancashire Business’ View’s 2023 Built Environment Conference heard.
With the theme ‘Building Towards Lancashire 2050’, the gathering heard from a series of top property professionals and experts from across the county and the wider North West.
They explored the role the built environment will play in delivering the 2050 vision and highlighted some of the opportunities that exist for Lancashire, including nationally significant projects like the new National Cyber Force HQ in Samlesbury and Eden Morecambe.
Delegates heard that the Lancashire 2050 framework was the first time all 15 local authorities in the county had come together to agree a set of themes and priorities, with the focus on economic prosperity.
It was a sea-change in thinking that is now being recognised by property sector investors as Lancashire gathers around the strategic vision and its aims.
The conference was sponsored by Blackpool Makes It Work and Harrison Drury Solicitors and held at Blackpool FC. The event was also supported by Fairhaven Housing, Smith and Love Planning Consultants and Strongdor.
Themes explored included economic prosperity, transport and infrastructure, climate, housing, employment, skills, communities and place.
Looking at Lancashire 2050, Andy Walker, head of service at the county council, told the conference: “At the heart of this is how Lancashire can close the gap on some other parts of the country.
“How we can create an environment that allows businesses to maximise both their productivity and profitability and how that creates a better life for their employees and the people of Lancashire in general.
“There are certain projects that can only really be delivered or realised in their complete opportunity if we think collectively and have a wider imagination.”
He added: “We are starting to see people come together in a way they haven’t done previously.
“Let’s not pretend that people don’t have squabbles but they do it behind closed doors and we are aiming to create that consistency of purpose that will allow private investment to flow.”
He told the conference of the need for that consistency to continue across the programmes coming forward throughout Lancashire.
And he added that transport was a key enabler of Lancashire 2050, saying: “Going north-south by road or rail is not that bad but trying to travel from here to Burnley is a nightmare.”
Nick Gerrard, growth and prosperity programme director at Blackpool Council, told the conference: “Lancashire 2050 is a gathering ground and Lancashire has gathered around it, which is great. That is a big step forward.”
He looked ahead to a potential devolution deal for Lancashire later in the autumn and added: “What breeds success in places is a clear vision about what you want to achieve, a commitment to that and a stabilised focus on delivering it over a period of time, adapting to whatever is changing.
“Manchester’s mantra has always been, ‘We don’t care what the latest government is calling it, whatever it happens to be, we’ll have some of that and make it work with what we are trying to do.’
“That is the place we are getting to in Lancashire. The levelling up agenda is a huge opportunity, long may it last. If they change the name of it fine, but strategically it is exactly the right thing to do.”
He added: “Our job in the public sector is to create the conditions and confidence within which the private sector can invest.”
John Chesworth chairs the Forum for the Built Environment in Lancashire, Preston’s Towns Fund Bid and Harrison Drury Solicitors. He said a pan-Lancashire leadership on economic growth was “absolutely fundamental” to the success of the 2050 framework.
“If you have got a key project that is seen as fundamental, make sure it is properly resourced and that the county and district local authority are working with each other.”
He added: “Business wants to be involved earlier in the process in terms of formulating strategic priorities and plans.
“Some of the division we talk about in Lancashire is political division. Businesses in Lancashire operate all over the county and we don’t see the borders in economic terms between this district council and that district council.
“What we want to see is the 2050 strategy being something that starts to erode those borders and allows things to progress.
“Business needs a seat at the table to help inform and we don’t want to hear, ‘This is what we are going to do to you’, we want to hear, ‘This is what we are going to do together.’”
And he added: “The big picture has got to be really ambitious and forward looking, casting ourselves as an international destination for investment.”
Phil Mayall is managing director of developer Muse, which is playing a major role in Blackpool’s regeneration work. He also sits on the board of the English Cities Fund and is a member of the Investment Property Forum and British Council for Offices.
He said it was important for Lancashire to concentrate on what makes it different and where its strengths lay when it came to inward investment opportunities.
He added: “Get things in the right order, what is right for your place, and it will attract investment.”
Phil, who studied at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), said that when it came to making choices about which areas of the country to invest in, developers like Muse were looking for ‘clarity of vision’.
He said: “The first thing we look for is that clarity of what the place wants, and is there a common purpose, a common goal. Is everyone behind it?”
He added that it hadn’t always been like that in Lancashire, with its different tiers of local government, and that had been “a big off putter”.
However he said there had been a shift “towards a common goal and a common conversation about what is right for the region.”
And he added: “The greater cohesion between the two tiers of governance is very noticeable and wasn’t always the case. It could be quite confusing frankly.”
More coverage of The Lancashire Built Environment Conference, including sessions involving experts from the fields of housebuilding, placemaking and leisure will feature in the November/December issue of Lancashire Business View.
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