A look at the ideas which made the headlines at LancsLive in 2021 which will run into next year
Building and development plans for Lancashire’s towns, cities, coastal and rural communities have been been making the headlines in many different ways this year.
Use of indoor and outdoor spaces has been shaped by the covid pandemic , creating both serious challenges and potential new opportunities.
New trends in working, studying, shopping, socialising and holidays have emerged or sped-up during the covid pandemic, changing how we use our homes, workplaces, local neighbourhoods, town and city centres, along with how we travel and the types of attractions we visit.
Some trends had started before the pandemic, such as the move to on-line shopping and the growth of mixed-use developments offering combinations of residential, business, hospitality and leisure activities.
Cafes, restaurants, food halls, new shared workspaces, cinemas, gyms and other developments were springing-up in many locations before the pandemic first began. Some of these were then put on-hold or adapted during the lock-down months and subsequent reopenings.
Some larger developments holding big numbers of people, such as major tourist attractions, hotels, clubs, leisure centres and hospitality venues, have faced considerable uncertainty with the loss of visitors in the covid pandemic.
However a number of large leisure and residential planning applications or changes in ownership of former visitor attraction sites have happened this year despite the pandemic’s impact.
Examples include the new £300 million Blackpool Central project. This was given planning approval in the autumn and will see three indoor theme parks, a 200-room hotel plus bars, restaurants and outdoor entertainment space at the former Blackpool Central railway station site.
Full permission was granted by Blackpool Council to convert and upgrade buildings on Central Drive including the King Edward cinema, King Edward pub and King Edward apartments into holiday accommodation, restaurants and bars as part of a new heritage quarter.
Some concerns were raised that the new project would threaten existing Blackpool attractions including the Pleasure Beach. However supporters of the new scheme, put forward by Nikal Ltd and Media Invest Entertainment, say it will enhance Blackpool’s overall offering rather than dilute it. Work is due to start in 2022 and could last up to ten years.
Meanwhile up the coast in Morecambe, the site of the former Frontierland theme park was bough by Lancaster City Council this summer. The council wants to control how the landmark site is developed in the future, to help shape the wider regeneration of Morecambe.
The Western-style Frontierland theme park closed in 1999. The derelict land was later bought by the Morrison’s supermarket chain, which operates nearby. Three outlets were built on one side of the l;and in 2007 but the remainder was vacant.
Future potential suggestions for the site have included a new Morecambe conference centre and hotel, an ice rink, a public park, festivals or circuses, which might be displaced from another site in Morecambe by the new Eden Project development. Other ideas include parking space for camper vans at night and an open-air art gallery or housing. City councillors say public consultation will be essential for future proposals.
Across Lancashire, and the wider UK, town centres have experienced huge changes in recent years, with the rise of out-of-town malls followed by the fall of physical shopping, leaving a glut of empty shops and malls.
In Nelson, the Pendle Rise shopping centre was one of the first modern malls built in the 1960s. For years, it was hugely popular. But now it needs a new purpose, and possibly buying by the borough council, to bring about change, according to a new draft masterplan to shape the town for the next 30 years.
The draft plan has been prepared for Pendle Borough Council this year to assist with short-term and longer-term development.
Pendle Rise shopping centre is one of the top priorities, it states. The mall’s design is inward-looking, has become outdated, has many empty units and is hindering Nelson’s development, it claims. New and different uses must be found for it, along with other town centre buildings and spaces.
Overall, the masterplan says Nelson needs new town centre apartments, better quality family houses and affordable homes. Nelson also needs better paths, cycleways and events spaces and new ways to overcome physical barriers between different neighbourhoods, such as the M65 motorway.
Thousands of new homes in north Lancashire
In Lancaster, the scale of potential new housing estates has been a major talking-point this year.
City councillors faced an extraordinary meeting in the summer when they were asked to decide if they supported a £140million Government funding deal with the county council, linked to plans for 9,000 new homes south of Lancaster, complete with road, drainage, flooding and other infrastructure works. It was described as the district’s biggest decision for many years.
The plans include elements designed to fit with a new campus at Lancaster University and the proposed new Bailrigg Garden Village, plus other areas and links with the M6 motorway.
Officially called the South Lancaster Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) programme, the proposals raised questions about issues of new homes supply, urban and rural development, transport and the balance between local, regional and national government and powers.
The Westminster Government wants more homes built across the UK and sees Lancaster as a key location in the north-west.
After a long and passionade debate, and a public demonstration outside Morecambe Town Hall, a majority of Lancaster councillors voted to support the partnership. However the issue highlighted the growth of environmental issues in local Lancaster politics and the influence of newer political parties.
Lancaster City Council is now run by Greens and Eco-Socialist Independent councillors. They opposed the south Lancaster HIF agreement, saying it was too many homes, made a mockery of the district’s existing local plan and was unsustainable. However, they accepted the final decision and said they would work with the county council and Government on the controversial plans.
Elsewhere in Lancaster, existing homes could be fitted with greener heating technology and better insulation, to reduced energy use and carbon emissions from central heating systems. And unused parts of a former high school site could be bought by the city council and redeveloped for new homes and community purposes, as part of wider improvement at the 1960s Mainway housing estate.
Derelict parts of the former Skerton High School site could boost the numbers and types of homes at Mainway, bring extra community amenities and extra open space, the city council has been told. The high school closed seven years ago and is subject to a 10-year period before it can be sold. Lancaster City Council needs to consider if it wants to try buying the school.
Greenfields or industrial sites?
Housing needs and pressures vary across different parts of Lancashire. Some boroughs, such as Ribble Valley, receive a lot of plans for new expensive ‘aspirational’ homes while others with large numbers of Victorian terraced homes feel they don’t have enough modern family homes, such as Pendle and Rossendale. But when new homes are proposed, the locations can be controversial.
In Rossendale, a scheme for 130 new homes on greenfield land was recently given the go-ahead by borough councillors, who blamed the Government planning requirements for leaving them no grounds for refusing the scheme by Taylor Wimpey for land off Holcombe Road and Grane Road in Helmshore.
More than 500 objections to the homes were received by the borough council and an on-line petition was signed by over 3,000 people against the plans. However, Taylor Wimpey was granted permission for the development after a series of updates and negotiations.
Elsewhere in Rossendale, almost 40 new affordable homes will be built on a former industrial site in Facet, after borough councillors approved a planning application for the former Slingco factory site.
Applicant Westchurch Homes is behind the plan and the new homes are to be managed by the Jigsaw housing association with affordable rents. Slingco has relocated to nearby Rawtenstall.
Elsewhere, in Pendle uncertainty has arisen after the target number of new homes built each year up to 2030 was cut by councillors. They also narrowly voted to review the district’s overall local plan, which identifies housing and commercial land, along with social needs, jobs, transport and environmental priorities.
The borough’s ruling Conservative group, which took political control this year, said the local plan had previously aimed to stimulate economic growth by encouraging higher numbers of new homes. Conservatives said the targets had been too high and had not been achieved. They want to go back to the drawing board with the local plan.
However, the decision currently leaves the borough without an officially adopted plan on new home numbers, types and sites, This ‘vaccuum’ sparked fears among opposition councillors of a house-building ‘free-for-all’ and that months, or years, of work done by planning officers could now be wasted.
However, the Pendle Conservatives said officers’ work would not go to waste. The previous high targets had originally been designed to stimulate economic growth and investment in the borough by increasing the number of modern family homes to attract more younger families and more employment. A lack of modern homes in Pendle is causing the migration of younger families to other areas such as the Ribble Valley, councillors have been told.
A new era for council houses?
Meanwhile in the Skelmersdale area of West Lancashire, new homes are being built by a development firm created by West Lancashire Borough Council.
Tawd Valley Developments is building new properties, or has plans for new homes, at a number of locations. It recently completed the first of a number of new homes at Eskbank and has other developments at Fairstead, Briefield and Northfield,
But economic changes following Brexit and the Covid pandemic could alter the independent housing company’s forecasted profits, with the knock-on effect of reduced dividends paid to the borough council which would then impact on the borough’s savings.
A budget gap of £1.2million was identified this year which the borough council says needs to be addressed to meet the company’s priority of being financially sustainable by 2023 and to satisfy external audit requirements. The borough council has been recommended to pay an outside organisation to carry out an independent review and to allocate up to £10,000 for the study.
However, Labour councillors said building hundreds of affordable homes in Skelmersdale should not be hampered by the review. Some claim other political parties which are opposed to council homes were using concerns about low-level business profit risks to cast doubt on the whole project of building new affordable homes.
And village pubs
Another topic of great importance to the public is pubs. Many local pubs have gone over recent years although we have also seen a new wave of independent pubs and brewers.
So to finish on a cheerful note, hopes to reopen and extend a Ribble Valley village pub have progressed this year. Councillors at Ribble Valley Borough Council’s were recently recommended to approve an amended plan for the Buck Inn at Grindleton, which was put up for sale in 2019 and has been vacant for some time.
A planning application for extensions to the side and back of the pub led to some worries and the plan was then delayed for more talks this autumn. However, the latest application seemed to satisfy planning officers and the reopening looks set to go ahead. The pub planning application was supported by 70 letters from local people who were keen to see the inn back open again.