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 'Growing Pains'

Growing PainsSince we broke the story back in 'Plans to Expand' just over 12 months ago, regular readers will have followed our news about the Growth Point scheme that will develop thousands more houses in our area.

Then in 'City Region Blues' we showed how initially the scheme was promoted by Preston Chorley and South Ribble, but the manipulative mandarins at Government Office North West persuaded them to incorporate Blackpool (and Fylde and Wyre which they already see as being part of Blackpool) into the scheme.

This was partly because Blackpool was preparing a scheme of its own centred around Marton Moss and Wyndyke Farm, and the mandarins thought the bids would stand a greater chance of success as a combined bid. This might yet show up as a big mistake.

The merged scheme also suited the new definition that we will have to get used to (if it survives a change of Government, that is) to create the 'Central Lancashire City Region'

Then in 'Growth Point Bid' last February, we saw that Fylde Council's Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee meeting had considered the scheme in more detail, and we noted that tensions were developing over the "Tithebarn scheme" in Preston.

This scheme is the re-development of the Bus Station area in Preston for a huge  store and apartments. This idea was always part of the Growth Point plan.

But Blackpool is nervous the huge retail store will suck Fylde's shoppers out from Blackpool Fylde and Wyre, and into Preston.

The Government has now approved the "Central Lancashire and Blackpool Growth Point Bid", (which thus became a 'scheme'), and work has started in the background. Regulars will note we revealed a rather pathetic attempt at 'consultation' in this regard in our article 'Snippets - Nov 08'

But this month, the former tensions have erupted into trouble that could yet become civic hostilities.

Blackpool's Executive meeting of 3 November had two reports. One had the dull sounding name of 'Central Lancashire Preferred Core Strategy' Because of the ludicrous 'Local Development Framework' system (which Fylde's planning policy chief calls "Alice in Wonderland" planning), all councils now have to produce something called a 'Core Strategy' and the Government is encouraging councils to work together on them.

Well Preston, Chorley and South Ribble have decided to do just that, and prepare a Core Strategy for a non-existing place called "Central Lancashire"

The vision for this triumvirate is that the City of Preston will become the third most important city after Manchester and Liverpool, (or perhaps equal with them) and be especially famous for retailing, culture, entertainment, business and higher education.

They see key areas for development as Preston Tithebarn area, Chorley Town, Leyland and Longridge.

They also say they want both the Tithebarn project and Preston to become "A viable alternative shopping and leisure destination to Manchester and Liverpool"

The civic testosterone coursing through the arteries of this adolescent City knows no bounds

Up to now, Blackpool had been under the impression that Preston sat alongside them, together with Burnley and Lancaster as the clutch of second-tier retail destinations, and it's getting very tetchy about the brash new City of Preston muscling-in amongst the big boys, and trying to shove everyone else into third place in the process.

So Blackpool's meeting was recommend to make a formal objection to the status being proposed for Preston City in the Joint Core Strategy for Central Lancashire, and to specifically to object to the Tithebarn development.

Blackpool's Executive was also told that "Discussions have taken place between officers of the three Fylde Coast Authorities on the document, and the stance set out in this report represents a shared officer view"

As an aside, that's an interesting statement. First, we wonder why the view of officers is relevant. It's the view of the three Councils that is important. This is a huge policy issue that should be at the heart of debate by all our elected representatives.

Secondly, it's the first time we have seen the use of "Fylde Coast authorities" using capital letters for the place name in an official report. This is actually the name they will be using for the 'City of the Fylde' when all three councils have a single administration.

Anyway, back to the plot.

The next item on Blackpool's agenda was consideration of the planning application for Preston's Tithebarn scheme.

Unsurprisingly, the recommendation was to make a formal objection to the scheme that will see a huge John Lewis, M&S and a food retailer appear in Preston

Blackpool says in this post-casino era, their green shoots of recovery will be trampled under the weight of people rushing to Preston to shop.

Altogether the scheme proposes 52,000 sq m of additional non-food retail space including the two big name stores, and up to 25,000 sq m of food stores, a multi screen cinema, more than 20 restaurants and cafes and 400 residential apartments, 2,700 parking spaces and a redeveloped bus station. It's big.

They note the additional non-food retail floorspace proposed in the planning application represents an increase of over 70% on Preston City Centre's non-food retail floorspace, and would make it twice as big as Blackpool and any of the other three main centres (Lancaster, Blackburn and Burnley)

Preston are arguing that: yes, its big, but we can draw custom from Manchester and from retail growth that will occur anyway, so it won't pose a threat to Blackpool or Blackburn or Lytham St Annes

Blackpool says the figures Preston have used are flawed, and that Blackpool's objection should be made in the strongest possible terms. They also say Fylde, Wyre and Blackburn will be expressing similar concerns, and seek a call-in inquiry. (Which means the Government would take the decision out of Preston's hands)

Which brings us back home to Fylde. So what are we doing about it?

Well, on 28th November, the Planning and Development Portfolio Holder Cllr Trevor Fiddler set out his proposed individual Cabinet member decision on both the Central Lancashire Core Strategy and the Tithebarn Planning Application.

Cllr Fiddler's Committee had previously said that it acknowledged Preston's predominance in the hierarchy of shopping centres in Lancashire (oops, a bit off-message that).

The report to inform his decision said that £15m of growth would be taken from the Lytham & Kirkham areas which means that Preston will be getting 47% of what's called 'leakage' (business) from Fylde.

Officers recommended that Fylde's decision should be made in the interests of Fylde Borough, and that if Preston resolves to go ahead with the Tithebarn scheme, the Secretary of State should be asked to convene a public enquiry about it.

Cllr Fiddler's proposed decision was to join in a combined response with all three Fylde Coast (also with capitals you will note) authorities with regard to the Central Lancashire Core Strategy, and to submit a combined objection on behalf of he three authorities.

When Preston got wind of this they must have started to put the pressure on, and Cllr Fiddler's actual decision was that "Following representations from Preston City Council, the response to the Tithebarn development in Preston be deferred in order to allow Preston City Council to make a presentation of their proposed scheme to Fylde's Planning Policy Scrutiny Committee"

And that's the present position.

Everyone is in a tricky position here.

Blackpool
... is a willing partner in a scheme that they knew contained the huge Tithebarn development when they signed up to it. So they're on thin ice moaning about it now. But they are doing, and that will undoubtedly strain the relationship between Blackpool and Preston, however much they deny it. But Blackpool can't rock the boat too much, because they need the extra houses the Growth Point scheme expects to be built in Fylde - houses that will generate a 'roof tax' of £10,000 per property to help fund the regeneration of the rundown areas in central Blackpool.

Fylde
... got dragged into this scheme at the last minute (after Blackpool had made all the running) and - in our view - made a bad strategic decision by supporting the Growth Point Bid at all. Fylde has places like Kirkham (and points east) that see Preston as their natural big shopping centre already, and folk there would benefit from more choice and convenience. That said, shopkeepers in Kirkham aren't going to be too excited about the additional competition. We are also going to have a similar schizophrenic decision of our own to make when Blackpool's plans show they want to expand into Fylde's green land (having already built on all of their own). That's not going to be universally popular here. So logically perhaps we should support Preston in the hope that Blackpool might pull out of the scheme altogether, and we don't have to fight to repel Blackpool's boarders from our borders.

Preston
... isn't going to want to give up its star money-spinner at the Tithebarn, especially as they will say everyone knew about it when they signed up to support the scheme in the first place.

What this exposes of course is the sheer stupidity of presuming that towns could, and should, merge into bigger units, and that they can work together in the common good of a region. It simply won't work. For the most part, traders in one town are in competition with those in a neighbouring towns, and we think the answer is more likely to be specialisation, giving each town a unique identity and its own selling point, and thus a particular market segment, not attempting to pretend they can be one big happy cohesive unit.

We'll keep our readers informed as this leviathan rumbles on as surely it will.

6 December 2008 

UPDATE 9 December 2008
Whilst we still await the publication of Blackpool's minutes online, the Gazette of last night reported that Blackpool's objection to the Joint Core Strategy for Central Lancashire will be made as outlined, they have decided to defer the objection to the Tithebarn scheme pending receipt of further information believed to be about retail impact.


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