Lancashire, Preston and South Ribble’s transformational City Deal pitched to over 100 developers, agents and investors at half-day business conference
Over 120 developers, investors and property professionals drawn from across the North West recently gathered together for a special inward investment event, focusing on the commercial opportunities and investment potential offered by Preston, South Ribble and the Central Lancashire region.
Entitled “We Are Lancashire – The Place For Growth”, the event was organised by the City Deal Partnership (including Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council, South Ribble Council and the Homes & Communities Agency), Marketing Lancashire and the Lancashire LEP and was hosted at the Preston headquarters of accountants, RSM.
Senior representatives of these organisations were joined at the event by private sector partners and prominent local business leaders who took part in a series of Q&A panels and discussions about what the City Deal programme means for Preston, South Ribble and the wider Lancashire economy.
The half-day conference covered a broad range of topics from the strengths of the local economy and what it is like doing business in the area, to the proactive planning and development support, property companies and investors can benefit from when they invest in Central Lancashire.
At the heart of the discussions was the impact and opportunities offered by the £434m City Deal programme. The City Deal is a key initiative of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s strategic plan to create 50,000 new jobs over the next 10 years across the county.
Key themes which emerged throughout the sessions included how all of the Lancashire Local Authorities, both county and district, involved in City Deal were working closely together to ensure private investment can flourish. This included their pragmatic, joined-up approach to the planning process, and the substantial public sector support on offer to help private sector schemes get started, and completed, with a minimum of barriers.
Another important debate centred around the need to create a diverse mix of housing, and have different types of tenure, throughout Central Lancashire. This was to ensure families, young people, the elderly, students and recent graduates could all get access to affordable and desirable accommodation which suited their needs.
As well as providing suitable homes to encourage graduates to stay in the area, many of the speakers also touched on the need to retain graduate talent through a combination of suitable jobs in the region, and the creation of an attractive environment to live in. This included a need for an improved for an improved evening economy as well as strengthening its position as a visitor destination.
This led to a focus on the strengths and benefits of Central Lancashire’s existing regeneration and development schemes, and highlighted some of the major City Deal investments which have recently been announced. These included Preston city-centre developments such as the new Harris Quarter cinema and leisure scheme, the potential for the re-development of an ‘HS2 ready’ Preston train station, the £200m UCLan masterplan, the regeneration of Winckley Square and the proposed Altus Grade A office project.
The major investment opportunities based around the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone site, which has now been designated as a specialist aerospace and advanced manufacturing hub as part of The Lancashire Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Cluster programme were also discussed, including reference to the recently green-lighted Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which will be based at Samlesbury.
The major mixed use logistics, retail and residential scheme at Cuerden, anchored by a new IKEA, was also held up as an example of how the City Deal is helping to unlock a series of complementary developments which are set to have a genuinely transformational effect on the Central Lancashire economy.
Many of the panellists commented on how Preston and South Ribble had a series of high quality assets, great quality of life, live projects, secured investments, strong governance and an effective partnership approach to development which put them in a great position to bring all kinds of property schemes – both large and small – forward quickly and efficiently.
Some speakers who had worked extensively in other core cities around the UK stated that Preston in particular was in a far better position than other places were before they began their respective regeneration ‘journeys’, and that Central Lancashire today has a much better story to tell to investors than some cities did ten years ago – along with the evidence to prove its collaborative approach can also deliver.
Threats and challenges to Lancashire’s growth were also debated, with issues like skill shortages, Brexit and Lancashire’s historic reputation for being a divided county all coming under discussion.
However, the general consensus from both private and public sector speakers was that Lancashire has made incredible progress over the last few years to speak with one voice showcasing its growing ambition and confidence, is looking to tackle the issue of vocational skills through a series of effective education and employer strategies, and is set to play a key role at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse initiative through a private-public partnership approach to stimulating economic growth.
Jim Carter, Chairman of the City Deal and LEP board director said: “This event was a great example of how Lancashire is directly engaging with investors and taking our story to the marketplace. We know many of the developers and agents present won’t have heard such a level of detail about what’s happening in and around Central Lancashire, and this conference gave us a platform to showcase how through initiatives like the City Deal, Preston and South Ribble offers an unrivalled investment opportunity.
“The fact we had the LEP, local business leaders and senior representatives from both district and county councils all talking in positive terms about how Lancashire is pro-development, pro-growth and is united in its ambition to unlock more private sector investment to drive the economy is a testament to how far the county has come. This is also why central government is so supportive of our aspirations to be at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.
“We now need to capitalise on the buzz created by this conference, and other events like it, and we will be following up with all the delegates to see how we can convert their interest and enthusiasm about Central Lancashire as an investment destination into potential deals.”
Panellist Mike Horner, regional director of specialist urban property developers, Muse Developments, who are involved with the cinema element of the Harris Quarter project, said: “The scale and ambition of the City Deal, and the positive private-public approach that the City Deal partners have adopted, has really helped developers like ourselves get on with the job. The knock-on effect of getting large scale schemes like ours brought forward, in terms of getting other developers and investors excited about the potential of Preston and Central Lancashire is also very significant.
“For example, we are already dealing with enquiries from leading operators interested in the cinema scheme we are delivering, despite it being two years away from completion. Part of this is clearly down to the commercial potential that a thriving and prosperous Preston can offer investors, but a lot of the enthusiasm is also due to the reputation Lancashire is getting within the property world as place which is ambitious, embraces growth and looks to work closely with developers to create high quality, sustainable and joined-up projects which work for everyone.
“Events like this conference, where major private sector players were on the same page as council leaders and local authority chief executives, demonstrates how initiatives like the City Deal and Growth Deal have helped galvanise a new era of collaboration, commercially and politically, in the county and we are greatly looking forward to working with Lancashire partners to help drive its resurgence as a major regional economy.”