With 2013 almost over, DAVID NOWELL looks back at some of the year’s biggest business stories.
AS we look back on 2013, one word jumps to mind above all others.
This was the year that hydraulic fracturing leapt to the forefront of the public consciousness.
Gas exploration company Cuadrilla worked tirelessly to reassure the Lancashire public that drilling for shale gas was safe and would provide countless jobs.
The public were far from convinced – and showed it at a series of public meetings.
Greenpeace brought the fight from Balcombe to Lancashire, launching a massive petition to stop drilling in Lancashire, and later staging a protest outside County Hall.
Early in the New Year, Cuadrilla will announce which Lancashire sites it wants to explore and the licensing and planning process will start over again. Watch this space.
So what else hit the headlines in 2013?
n Preston Bus station was given a reprieve when it gained listed building status.
The council wanted to demolish it, but now all the talk is of a massive redevelopment of the area around it.
• Not far away, the Guild Hall is also set for a new future, with bidders applying to Preston Council for the right to develop it.
One plan includes revamping the building into a shopping mall and world-class concert venue, linked to a four-star hotel.
• Call centre staff were in tears as the shutters fell on a piece of Preston’s retail history.
More than 250 workers were made redundant when Shop Direct closed the iconic mail order centre in London Road. Shop Direct, which incorporates Very.co.uk, Littlewoods and K & Co, hinted a year ago its Preston centre – previously home to GUS and Littlewoods – was doomed because of the growth of online shopping.
• Planners gave the seal of approval to an empty bank being transformed into a new pub
JD Wetherspoon applied to convert the old TSB bank in Preston’s Church Street into its latest pub.
Proposals include a new beer garden, and Coun John Browne said: “I think it’s a good use for this building.”
• A Preston law firm was bought by its management team as part of a restructuring deal.
The firm, Marsden Rawsthorn LLP, appointed administrators and was immediately bought by a new company, Marsden Rawsthorn Solicitors Ltd.
In a statement, chief executive Debbie Pettitt said there would be no job losses at its office at Faraday Court in Fulwood, Preston, or St Thomas’s Road, Chorley.
• A Preston nightclub underwent a huge revamp to reopen with a new name and look, creating 50 jobs.
Lava & Ignite in Church Street, Preston, closed and re-emerged as Evoque in August.
Already employing 50 people, Evoque took on 50 additional staff to deliver the high service standards of the new club. It will feature booth seating with table service throughout two distinctly styled music rooms and VIP area.
• A £35m regional distribution centre for the supermarket chain Waitrose was opened at Buckshaw Village, Chorley, providing 300 jobs.
Fruit and vegetables and chilled foods were the first to roll-out in a phased opening at Waitrose.
The centre now boasts 300 employees servicing 42 branches across the North of England and Scotland.
• Morecambe-based businesswoman Melissa Burton scooped the Small Business of the Year award in this year’s national Nectar Business Small Business Awards.
Melissa, 33, runs Goody Good Stuff, a confectionary brand which specialises in natural gummy sweets that can be enjoyed by anyone, irrespective of their religion or dietary requirements.
The vegetarian, dairy-free, fat-free sweets are proving a hit with the kosher, halal, and nut-free market. The business has already expanded across 27 export markets, including Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the US, and intends to continue growing, aiming to reach 20,000 stockists by the end of 2013.
Melissa received her award from Apprentice star and businesswoman Karren Brady.
• Plans were unveiled for an £18m sports and science park in Lancashire.
The proposed park, on a 32-acre site off the M55 at Kirkham, includes community sports and education facilities, as well as new retail, leisure and commercial development.
The plan for the site, at Mill Farm off the A585, also includes a new stadium for ambitious non-league football club AFC Fylde. The plan is the brainchild of Fylde businessman David Haythornthwaite, who had similar plans in Wrea Green turned down last year.
• A hotel boss left £600,000 out of pocket, due to the ‘interest rate-swap’ scandal, took his protest to the House of Commons.
Stefan Sikorski, boss of the Lavender Hotel Group (which owns Park Hall at Charnock Richard), was furious with the rate of compensation being paid to businesses
Mr Sikorski added that, while his losses did not damage the hotel chain, they did prevent further investment and expansion.
• A services firm announced 500 jobs will be relocated from its Lancashire base to a site in Liverpool.
Services group Amey is to close its North West base in Farington, Leyland, near Preston, early in 2014 when the building’s lease runs out. It will move the operation to The Matchworks, the former site of the Bryant & May match making factory, in Garston.
• Politicians promised to invest half a billion pounds in Preston and South Ribble over the next decade after a historic City Deal was signed at Downing Street. The Preston and Lancashire City Deal sets out a plan to support the creation of more than 20,000 new jobs – including 5,000 in the Lancashire Enterprise Zone, 17,420 new homes and nearly £1bn in economic growth over 10 years.
Greg Clark, Minister for Cities, signed the agreement with the Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein, the Deputy Leader of Preston Council, John Swindells, the Leader of South Ribble Council, Margaret Smith, and the chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Edwin Booth.
• The Be Inspired Business Awards outshone even the famous Blackpool Lights as the cream of Lancashire businesses were honoured.
TV presenter Eamonn Holmes and former X Factor winner Matt Cardle were the surprise stars at the Blackpool Tower event.
More than 900 members of Lancashire’s business community packed into the ballroom for the North and Western Chamber of Commerce annual event.
• Lancashire-based supermarket chain Booths bought its wholesale fruit and vegetable supplier Sharrocks for an undisclosed sum. The move marks a major move for the two family-run companies, which stretch back generations.
Under the deal, Booths took over the existing Preston-based Sharrocks operation and building.
• The public were asked for their views on Preston Council’s future plans.
Preston Council’s city centre plan is designed to reinvigorate the economy and increase footfall in the city centre.
Among the council’s major plans are creating a thriving “office quarter”: building a new city centre cinema; increasing the number of city centre residents by building quality homes; and revitalising the city’s leisure and culture offering.
• A Lancashire caravan company notched up sales worth £7.38m during a successful visit to The Motorhome & Caravan Show at the Birmingham NEC.
Lunar Caravans, based at Lostock Hall, near Preston, attracted massive interest in their products at the event.
The show is the biggest event of its kind on the calendar, and the national launch pad for the forthcoming season’s new model ranges.
• A new version of a fighter jet built by thousands of Lancashire defence workers took to the skies for the first time.
The Tranche 3 version of the Typhoon, built at BAE Systems at Warton and Samlesbury, has started flight tests ahead of entering frontline service with the RAF.
It made its first flight from the runway at the Warton site under the guidance of BAE test pilot Nat Makepeace.
• A businessman unveiled a bid to open Preston’s first casino.
A team assembled by Edgar Wallace, owner of the former Fives bar building in Guild Hall Street, is working with the National Casino Industry Forum (NCiF) to win the city a licence for casino gambling.
They are backing a motion currently going through the Commons to make licences portable, meaning that Preston would be able to use the permission currently granted to a town or city that has not been exercised.
If the bid is successful, they hope a major casino name will open in the two upper levels of the landmark former Preston.
Anyone fancy a punt on what will make the news in 2014?