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We are proud to be Nimbys - Tithebarn opponents

Maxine Callow and Alan Cottam are self-confessed parochialists – and proud of it.

The councillors who head up regeneration on Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen Councils respectively insist their interests stop at their respective district lines.

It is this attitude which has set them both on collision course with developers behind Preston's 700m Tithebarn regeneration scheme, a project which promises to not only pump massive investment but also bring new jobs and new profile to the city – and Lancashire.

But despite these two regeneration leaders being born and bred Lancastrians, both remain defiant that the arrival of a landmark John Lewis and Marks and Spencer in Preston city centre will only spell bad news for their towns and for the county.

As revealed yesterday, objections from both authorities to Tithebarn plan, backed by Duke of Westminster-owned developer Grosvenor, are risking a lengthy and costly public inquiry which threatens to derail the scheme altogether.

"I was elected to represent the people of Blackpool," roars Coun Callow, regeneration cabinet member on Blackpool Council, "and that is exactly what I am going to do. I just do not and will not accept that Tithebarn will do anything to help people in Blackpool or anywhere outside of Preston, all it will do is take away jobs, shops and investment.

"The extension completed on Hounds Hill last year was always meant to be phase one, maybe we would want a John Lewis here in Blackpool – if Preston gets one, we never will.

"We have plans for when we get out of this deep recession and we will do everything we can to protect Blackpool to make sure those plans become reality."

Asked whether she would tell Preston to "keep their nose out" if it had objected to that 30m investment, she said: "I would perhaps think of saying that, but it would be up to them, they would only be protecting their own interests – which is exactly what we are doing."

But, rewind just four months, and Coun Callow was talking up the resort as one which "always does well in a recession" due to the influx of people turning down holidays abroad for short breaks at home. On November 4, she beamed: "Blackpool is alive and kicking, it is still the best seaside resort, I can only see a brighter future for Blackpool."

Just 25 miles down the road, that same rhetoric was coming out of Blackburn town hall as the bulldozers moved in to start a 66m cash injection into a "derelict" part of the town's centre.

This, admitted Coun Cottam at the time, would put it on the map as the retail capital of east Lancashire – and yet no complaint from just 10 miles down the road at Preston Town Hall about shoppers from the east deserting its centres.

"It is a completely different thing," insists the council's regeneration portfolio holder, "we are putting up 20 shops in a derelict part of the town, but Tithebarn is grossly oversized for what Preston needs."

He would, however, be "a bit peeved" if the city's council did make an objection to the improvements, but insists its intentions are not malicious.

"We are not Luddites," he argues, "and we do not begrudge Preston its development but we would be happy if that was spread out across the county and not all in one area.

"If the Duke of Westminster wants to come and invest a bit in Preston, a bit in Blackburn, a bit in Blackpool, I think we would all be happy.

"As a council we have an stake in the shopping centre in Blackburn and we have to think about that, what is Tithebarn going to mean for that centre or those in the rest of Blackburn town centre?

"Preston has to serve its population and we have to serve Blackburn's – it is as simple as that."

The objections could yet spread, with councils in neighbouring Wyre and Fylde warning they could yet put in objections, if an independent study being done by Lancashire County Council into the impact of Tithebarn comes back with bad news.

A recent study conducted by consultants for Wyre last year claimed the development would take 17m of growth away from Blackpool and slash trade in the resort and Blackburn by 7% and 14% respectively by 2014.

It will also take 15m of growth away from Lytham and Kirkham and 7m from Garstang.

Both those authorities insist they are not guaranteed to object even if the report comes back with a stark result, but for Tithebarn and Preston, the battle could be just about to begin.

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