Councillors in Chorley have clashed over competing visions for the future of the borough – and whether residents are feeling the benefit of recent major investments.
The ruling Labour group and Conservative opposition on Chorley Council each laid out their plans for the borough over the next three years – as well as an assessment of the twelve months gone by.
Deputy council leader Peter Wilson hailed 2019 as a “year of delivery” for the authority, with the Primrose Gardens extra care scheme for elderly residents and the Strawberry Fields Digital Office Park both having opened – and the Market Walk shopping centre extension just days away from welcoming its first customers.
Leader Alistair Bradley said that a recent ‘peer review’ of the council by other local authority chiefs noted that Chorley was going beyond the traditional responsibilities of a borough council – with projects such as funding flood defences for Croston, subsidising threatened bus services and the recent purchase of the TVS warehouse in Buckshaw Village.
“They said they’d never seen anything like Chorley – a place where [the council]…steps in. That’s often at our own risk and they said, ‘If you do this stuff, other people will let you do it’.
“But who else is going to provide these services?” Cllr Bradley asked.
However, Conservative opposition leader Martin Boardman questioned the wisdom of the way in which the council is operating – and its plans to continue in the same vein.
“It’s another rehash – promising so much, but changing the lives of so few. A strategy of property acquisition and so-called investments in and around our town centre.
“There is a current £60m debt which our children and grandchildren will inherit when we are gone. This strategy has one common theme – borrow, borrow, borrow and spend, spend, spend,” Cllr Boardman added.
Deputy Conservative group leader Debra Platt also demanded to know how the council planned to end “the disparity” between investment in urban and rural parts of the borough – which she claimed was split on a ratio of 99 percent to one percent.
“A lot of the money [is generated] by the villages from the massive amounts of housing we are getting [through developer contributions towards infrastructure] – but we are not getting any facilities to go with it,” Cllr Platt said.
Cllr Wilson said the Conservatives should be “ashamed” for suggesting that residents were not benefiting from the council’s investments, which he claimed offered the authority a return in the long-run.
He added: “On spending, the stats say all the spend is in the town centre, because that’s where the major projects have been. If you take those projects out, you’ll see a far more even spread across villages and towns.”
Labour’s corporate strategy for the district includes commitments to a vibrant town centre and villages, a strong and expanding business sector and reduced health inequalities.
In what they describe as creating “clear blue water” themselves and the Labour group, the Conservatives alternative strategy pledges to create a skills hub, a scheme to support vulnerable and elderly residents and investment in sports clubs.
Both parties say they will put the environment at the heart of their plans.
Chorley Council will be holding an all-out election next May, when every seat will be up for grabs as a result of boundary changes within the borough.