Four years on from shock of IKEA abandoning scheme for a Bamber Bridge megastore, fresh plans are ready to be unveiled

County Hall's long-awaited vision for the land once earmarked for an IKEA flagship store near Bamber Bridge is just weeks away from being unveiled.

By Brian Ellis
Friday, 25th February 2022, 4:22 pm

The county council says it is almost ready to reveal fresh plans to switch Lancashire Central from a retail park to an employment site.

The matter will be discussed by cabinet members next Thursday. But exact details are likely to be heard behind closed doors because some material is still considered to be commercially sensitive.

The authority expects to submit a planning application by early April.

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Road to nowhere - the abandoned site where IKEA had hoped to build a store.

It is almost four years since furniture giants IKEA stunned the authority by pulling out of plans to build a giant store at the end of the M65.

Other major retailers had been expected to follow the Swedish firm onto the site - including Marks and Spencer - but they too pulled out when the anchor store project was abandoned.

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Ikea pulls out of Cuerden site

The scheme would have been dominated by warehouses and light industrial units, with the first phase due to open in 2021.

The 65-hectare site is regarded as one of the best in the North West.

But South Ribble Council reacted by calling for a rethink, saying that was not how they saw such a prized piece of land in their borough being used.

At the time district council leader Coun Paul Foster said: “South Ribble has a clear vision for what we would like to see at that site and there are some discussions to be had with [the county council], because that vision seems to have [deviated] slightly.

“Cuerden is at the heart of our borough and it must be developed in an appropriate manner which is acceptable to our community."

The council called for LCC to go back to the drawing board and come back with a more acceptable scheme to reflect the importance of one of the North West's premier development sites.

The land has not seen any wagon movements since IKEA pulled out.

A report by officers to next week's cabinet meeting says: "The Lancashire Central site, at Cuerden, South Ribble, is the county council's prime, mixed-use strategic employment site.

"Its development is closely aligned to the county council's corporate strategy and key priorities and plays an essential role in Lancashire's emerging long term strategic plan "Lancashire 2050" and in accelerating the 'levelling up agenda.'

"The multi-million-pound project has the potential to generate over 2,000 jobs from investment creating prime development employment space.

"The scheme has been subject to extensive re-visioning and re-programming since the withdrawal of IKEA in 2018.

"Despite multiple barriers including the global COVID-19 pandemic, significant effort has progressed and facilitated delivery to the current key milestones.

"The revised planning strategy for the site is for a more 'employment focused' mix of uses given the change in the retail market and the stratospheric rise of good quality employment in those employment sectors supporting contemporary business park, warehousing, logistics and 'final mile' retail distribution, for which this site is well suited to accommodate given proximity to the M65, M6, M61 motorway networks.

"Employment in these sectors reflects a more advanced range of higher skill levels promoting an improved mix of jobs and competitive salaries compared to more historical 'low skill / low pay' work.

"This reinforces the ambition to boost employment growth and job opportunities for the project that can make a real difference in the lives and wellbeing for people in Lancashire.

"In turn, creating a quality place to work, live and visit, cascades to wider improvements in the health and wellbeing of the workforce and promotes other policy agendas such as reduced carbon.

"Significant works are currently underway to develop a planning application that reflects the planning strategy to deliver the site in a comprehensive manner.

"The application will also be positioned as the crucial first phase to open up the wider site(s) for development and the planning strategy will be taken forward on the basis that it could link to development of the wider site(s) as and when they can be brought forward."