City deal to be signed off by summer

Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership
Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership
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The head of Lancashire’s growth body has said he expects Preston’s ‘city deal’ to be signed off by the summer.

Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said he had been told the deal could be “among the first to capitalise” on an offer of money and power from Whitehall.

The deal, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on Monday night, will unlock the biggest road-building project in Lancashire in generations.

It will pave the way for the realisation of Lancashire County Council’s ‘highways masterplan’, which includes creating a new link road from the M55 motorway to the Enterprise Zone at Warton and completing the Penwortham bypass.

Mr Booth said: “I am delighted that the bid has received the green light and particularly pleased with the feedback the proposal has had from government.

“The indications are that this is one of the most advanced of the 20 bids put forward for consideration, which suggests Lancashire could be among the first to capitalise on the benefits of the City Deal.

“The priority now must be to work with government to sign the deal as soon as possible and begin to turn what is an extremely significant proposal into a reality for residents and businesses across Lancashire.”

The investment in infrastructure will create 23,000 new jobs, 15,000 new homes and nearly £1bn in economic growth over the next decade, it has been claimed.

It is hoped the roads will see work on thousands of new homes planned for north-west Preston get underway.

Preston Vision chairman Jim Carter, who is also chairman of Bamber Bridge-based building firm, Eric Wright Group, said the city had a track record on delivering economic growth “matched by few other areas.”

He added: “The private sector clearly recognises its potential.

“However, the capacity of the infrastructure in and around the city is limiting further growth so the proposal set out in the City Deal is vitally important.

“I understand the government has been particularly impressed that the private sector has been engaged in the preparation of the bid and that is a theme that must continue as we move forward to deliver it.”

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said there was “huge support” for the proposal from business.

She said: “We hope that Preston will now reap the benefits of these new financial freedoms and this will support job creation and also improve our skills base.

“However, for Preston to be a truly successful and globally competitive city region we need to ensure that the public and private sector work together to maximise this great opportunity.”

Preston Council leader Peter Rankin said the city needed to be “unleashed from the shackles” imposed by infrastructure problems around the city to “enable more businesses to grow and flourish here.”

Geoff Driver, leader of the county council, said Preston would become “a focal point for economic growth” with the work unlocked by deal benefiting the whole of the county.

He said: “It will form the basis for large scale investment in transport and housing, and provide the ideal conditions for companies to invest and create employment.”

In January, the county council started public consultation on its ‘masterplan’ which is taking place as part of public exhibition events throughout the county.