Blackpool and Blackburn were accused of trying to stunt the growth of Preston as the fight to transform the city centre begun in earnest.
The battle lines were drawn and the opening shots fired on the first day of the public inquiry into the £700m Tithebarn project yesterday and Preston said its neighbours had “a desire to impose an artificial and unjustified restraint on Preston’s growth”.
In his opening speech on behalf of the Preston Tithebarn Partnership, David Elvin QC said Blackpool and Blackburn wanted to “have its cake and eat it”. He said: “Unlike both Blackpool and Blackburn, Preston has not enjoyed much recent investment.
“Yet the Opposition Consortium Authorities (OCA) objects to the regeneration proposed, despite being unable to identify any tangible specific material adverse impact on any identified development in Blackburn, Blackpool or elsewhere.”
Across the room at the University of Central Lancashire’s Brook building, Christopher Katkowski QC for the OCA described Tithebarn as a “mega-scheme” and said: “We are not here out of envy or spite but rather because we wish to ensure that these proposals are considered on the basis of informed and rigorous analysis of their city region-wide implications.”
Yesterday marked the first day of what is expected to be a six or seven week inquiry into Preston’s proposed revamp which was “called-in” by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
It will be overseen by inspector Ken Barton and his assistant Paul Griffiths. Mr Barton said the “main matters of dispute” were the retail impact, the impact on regeneration and transport matters.
But Mr Elvin said: “The development proposals are not likely to lead to any material adverse impact on any neighbouring centre or have any effect on investor confidence in any other centre.
“The impact on Blackpool and Blackburn will be relatively modest and will be offset by current investment in both centres which will enhance their market share.”
And Alan Evans, on behalf of Preston Council, said Tithebarn would “reverse the decline in Preston’s fortunes” and was an opportunity that “comes along once in a Preston Guild”.
But in his case for the main opponents, Blackpool and Blackburn, Mr Katkowski said Tithebarn was “out of scale with the city’s role and would jeopardise public and private sector investment elsewhere in the city region”.
He said: “Of course this mega-scheme would undermine Blackpool and Blackburn - how could it fail to?”
And he claimed the two towns were “fragile centres” and said: “We do not recognise the rosy picture painted by our opponents of the rude health of, and investors’ attraction to, these two towns. Tentative steps forward have been hard won.”
If approved, the development is not now due to open until 2018.