Retail has been all but removed from plans for the development of a huge plot of land at the junction of the M6 and M65 motorways in South Ribble.
The future shape of the scheme - formerly known as the Cuerden development but now known as Lancashire Central - was thrown into doubt last May when furniture retailer Ikea walked away from building the site’s flagship store.
After nearly a year of speculation about who might replace the Swedish giant, Lancashire County Council has today announced that the project is heading in a totally different direction.
The authority has unveiled its vision to turn the 65 hectare development into a logistics and distribution hub, with the potential to add £200m of gross value to the Lancashire economy each year.
It is estimated that 3,000 jobs will be created on the site - 1,500 fewer than when it was planned to be a retail-led development.
But County Hall insists that the jobs now expected to come to the area will be of “higher value”.
Previous plans for 210 homes on the plot are unaffected by the wider changes.
Stephen Young, Lancashire County Council’s executive director for growth, environment and transport, says that the plans had changed partially because retail is facing so many challenges.
“Ikea was a really iconic development and the right thing to do at that particular time,” he explained.
“But if we leave retail in there, there is a real risk of cannibalising the town centres of Preston and Leyland - and that doesn’t serve the purpose of what we want to do.
“There will still be some roadside retail to serve the site itself and motorway users coming off at that junction, but I don’t think that a major out-of-town shopping centre is appropriate.”
While a hotel, car sales showroom and food retail units are all still mooted as potential occupiers of part of the site, the main focus now appears to be on logistics, warehousing and light industrial units.
Some office space will also be created under the revised plans.
The revamped vision was drawn up after the county council assessed the needs of the businesses that could be attracted to the area.
“If you look up and down the M6 and M61 corridors, the growth of logistics is huge. It’s probably one of the big growth areas in the country at the moment - so we know there is a lot of unmet demand and potential,” Mr Young said.
“Potentially, you could have big supermarket chains basing their distribution hubs here. Or you could have online companies which are delivering directly to the customer.
“These are huge blank canvases and the end user can decide what they want.”
The county council’s economic development boss says that the authority is taking “no great risk” by building before tenants have agreed terms.
“Whatever you’re building in this market, it’s very rare that you can get somebody signed up and they’re not at risk of, say, going bust - most development by its nature has to be speculative,” Mr Young said. “When you have a user in the market who wants however many square feet, you then have it ready and they can take that unit from you.”
The authority is also confident that the development will “pay for itself” - although County Hall will invest cash upfront to get the project off the ground.
It emerged last year that over £900,000 had been spent on site preparation works before IKEA pulled out of the project.
The council expects to recoup its money either when it sells individual plots or by renting them out and creating a regular income stream - no fixed model has yet been decided.
“We didn’t want to come forward with something that was going to cost the taxpayers of Lancashire huge amounts of money,” Mr Young said.
It is forecast that £250m of public and private sector investment will be pumped into the site. New planning permissions will have to be granted for some parts of the project and it is expected that it will be a decade before the development is completed.
However, work will take place in phases and the first businesses are expected to take up residence in 2021.
“We are really excited about this, it’s a huge development for Lancashire and it demonstrates to the market that they should have confidence in the county council to bring these sites forward,” Mr Young added.