City deal not about ‘building monuments’

Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council
Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council
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A deal struck in Central Lancashire to take on the power to drive its economy will not be about creating “monuments”, a council leader has said.

Lorraine Norris, chief executive of Preston Council, said the areas bid to strike a ‘city deal’ will be focused on ways to kick-start “jobs and growth” across the area.

She admitted the council would be pushing for it to focus on improvements to the city’s centre but said it would be working with its counterparts in neighbouring South Ribble and Chorley to draw up the plans.

Talks are now underway between the city council and Lancashire County Council, which will jointly draw up the bid, which would see it take on Whitehall powers and cash.

Mrs Norris said the Government were seeking “one big idea” as part of the bid rather than “an expensive shopping list” as part of the first wave of deals struck with major cities, including Manchester and Liverpool.

The chief executive said: “The Government wants something radical in terms of facilitating growth in the area which does not necessarily mean something shiny and exciting.

“It will not be a new £700m shopping centre and is more likely to be around infrastructure, ways to get people around the area easier or stimulating housing demand.

“The end of objective of all this is jobs and growth, that is the single issue the Government is dealing with here, and the bid we put forward has to create that.

“If you want to attract people to an area, you need to give them a place to live, a way to get around the area quickly and efficiently, these are the things which will attract businesses to Preston.”

She said the council would be putting pushing for Preston’s city centre to benefit from any changes.

It follows a report, published by think-tank Centre for Cities earlier this year, which said Central Lancashire had created the second-highest number of private sector jobs in the country over a decade, but had seen jobs in the city centre fall.

The chief executive added: “It is not just about benefiting Preston city centre, it is the benefit which comes out of that for the rest of the area.”

Paul Swinney, an economist at Centre for Cities who authored the Preston report, said the deal could even include other councils such as Ribble Valley and Wyre.

He said: “The Government is not interested in bids which stop and start at borough boundaries, it wants the focus on to be on the economic footprint of an area, the travel to work areas.

“Preston’s bid cannot just be about Preston but if it can prove doing something in Preston can benefit these other parts, that could be a way forward.”

Talks have taken place between officers at Preston Council and Lancashire County Council with senior civil servants at the Cabinet Office to establish the criteria of the bids.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced Central Lancashire as one of 20 parts of the country which he was asking to bid for a ‘city deal’.

The bidders have until January 15 to submit the bid with a view to them being in place by next November.