A grand vision for a “northern powerhouse” was today accused of ignoring Lancashire.
David Cameron and George Osborne were in the region to draw together great ideas for the North West, including a mayor for Greater Manchester, widening of motorways and investment into HS2.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor unveiled a pledge to boost the region into a “driving force” in the national economy.
But the small print revealed the only specific plan for Preston was a “transport gateway” in the city centre – believed to be already underway.
“There is nothing for Preston and Lancashire,” said Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein.
“We need to be grateful they have realised the north does go beyond the Watford Gap, but unfortunately they don’t seem to recognise it goes beyond Manchester. When are they going to recognise the value of places like Lancashire?”
The list of plans unveiled in Manchester yesterday includes ensuring more than 100,000 more people are in employment in the region during the next parliament, and delivering the largest and most sustained investment in the long-term transport infrastructure of the North West.
It also promises to build a “northern powerhouse”, raising the quality of life in the region and building up to 25,000 new homes. It pledges more than 75,000 more children attending outstanding schools, and a vision to make people £2,000 better off in real terms – with an £18bn increase in the size of the economy by 2030.
But Preston Council Peter Rankin described the plans as “unambitious”. He said: “Anybody having a glance at it would think over 100,000 more people in employment, 25,000 new homes, but I’m underwhelmed by that. When you think of Preston’s City Deal, 20 per cent of those 100,000 more people in employment are being provided by our city deal alone.
“So the other 80,000 is supposed to cover everywhere else in the North West. It’s not a lot really, it’s not impressive and even worse when it talks about 25,000 new homes – that’s a shockingly unambitious target when you think we are embarking on a target of 15,000.”
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “If the government hadn’t scrapped the Northern Way proposals in 2009, work would already be underway on a lot of this activity.
“That said it represents a lot of activity that would boost the north and close the gap with London and the south which should be welcomed. But it’s very light on how it’s going to be managed”.
Mr Cameron said Lancashire would benefit from £233.9m for projects including infrastructure improvements in Blackburn, and the creation of a transport gateway in Preston connecting the railway station and bus station to the city centre. The government will also announce the allocations of a further £1bn for Local Growth Fund for the region and investment in the Universities of Lancaster and Liverpool.