Pension billions to lift city centre

Peter Rankin, the leader of Preston Council
Peter Rankin, the leader of Preston Council
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Billions of pounds of investments locked in pension funds will be targeted to kick-start the regeneration of Preston city centre, it can be revealed.

Lancashire County Council is to look at ways to use its £4.6bn fund to trigger major projects which would otherwise be stalled by a lack of finance available to such schemes.

The idea was part of the ‘city deal’ bid put forward by the county council and Preston Council to secure new cash and powers from the Government for the biggest infrastructure investment project in Lancashire in generations.

The promise has seen Preston’s bid put on a fast-track towards being given the green light quicker than 19 other bids from across the country.

County council leader Geoff Driver said it would look to use to money to kick-start developments if they promised a return on their investment for the fund.

He said: “Any investment we make has to be good for the fund and the people whose pensions are paid out of it, but if we can make an investment which enables something to happen in Lancashire, why wouldn’t we?

“Everyone knows that money is not easy to come by at the moment, so we have to make sure every penny we spend helps the people of Lancashire.

“What we have said to Preston is that we will work with them to see what regeneration it has which could fit our criteria.”

The city council is currently in talks with market traders over the revival of its historic markets.

That project would see it knock down the existing Market Hall and inject millions of pounds of investment into its Victorian covered market.

Peter Rankin, the leader of Preston Council, said it was “still early days” for talks over pension funds, but admitted it could use the cash to kick-start a number of schemes.

He said: “The Government has made it clear the pension fund idea put Preston ahead of the pack.

“It is no secret that we have been struggling to get the city centre redeveloped since the demise of Tithebarn and this gives us a great opportunity to do it.”

He said a delegation from the Preston bid would be paying a visit to Whitehall for “a beauty contest” before June when the final details of the bid will be thrashed out.

The Preston bid - which has been jointly submitted by the county and city councils along with South Ribble Council - would see it handed a slice of Whitehall cash to kick-start a major infrastructure investment.

It has earmarked projects including the completion of the Penwortham bypass, a new link road from the M55 to the Enterprise Zone at Warton and a train station at Cottam, Preston, as projects which would be triggered by the deal.

Coun Rankin said a huge investment in infrastructure around the north-west of Preston would allow work to start on building hundreds of new homes in the area.

He added this would see the council handed hundreds of thousands of pounds extra in New Homes Bonus payments.