The government revealed that the Central Lancashire neighbours have been successful in their bids to its Towns Fund.
While Leyland has netted the maximum available share of £25m, Preston fell slightly short of the full potential payout – and will be handed £20.9m.
That figure includes a £1m upfront Towns Fund payment made last year to enable the city to upgrade some of its public spaces so that they can host a rolling programme of pop-up events to tempt visitors.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown welcomed the cash, but said he was “a little disappointed” not to scoop the full allocation – adding that it would be difficult to now prioritise the schemes proposed as part of the city’s bid, because they are all “equally important”.
Each of the 101 areas invited to make submissions had to set out how they would use the money to revamp their urban centres and was charged with assembling a Towns Fund board of local representatives and institutions to put together the most persuasive case to the government.
Preston’s proposal included resurrecting previously derailed plans to create a youth zone in the city, along with a series of cultural projects, largely centred around the Harris Quarter.
The city’s pitch also featured a skills hub, while some of the money was earmarked to go towards pre-existing projects – including the refurbishment of the Harris Museum and the new cinema and leisure complex being built in the city centre.
Leyland based its bid on ambitious plans to radically revamp its town centre, including: creating a new market square; refurbishing the market inside and out; redesigning Hough Lane by introducing ‘shared space’ similar to that on Preston’s Fishergate; and building a business and skills hub.
Cllr Brown said that the investment in Preston was welcome and thanked all those who had produced “a strong bid”.
“This is all about the regeneration of our city – and people have waited for that for decades.
“[Our bid] was very much based on trying to build our own resilience. We know that there will be some businesses that won’t be there after the pandemic, so it’s important to have a creative offer to bring people into the city.
“That could be concerts, performances, animations – and I also think there is a role for getting local creative businesses into retail units.
“There are some assets that will need to be done up, such as on Lancaster Road and the Bailey Street Annex. We will also be looking at how we can support local enterprise and local ownership off assets, [so that] we create wealth here, we keep it here and we spread it around as much as we can.
“We have seen a new wave of co-operation in the city during Covid and I think we have now got to work between the council, local institutions and businesses to really lift the city up,” Cllr Brown said.
John Chesworth, chair of the Preston Towns Fund board, described the government announcement as “fantastic news for our city”
“The City Investment Plan that underpins this funding sets out a 15-year vision for improving the city centre to attract more residents, workers, students, visitors, and investors, making it a more inclusive location for everyone.
“The projects within the plan will not just regenerate buildings and public spaces, they will strengthen our leisure and cultural offering, creating jobs and economic growth. They will enable the city centre to have a thriving day and night-time economy which will be vital in the years ahead.
“While we started creating the City Investment Plan and our funding bid before the pandemic, these projects will now be even more vital to our recovery from this crisis which has deeply impacted our residents and businesses. It will continue the positive flow of change through Preston, making a significant, long-term contribution to our city’s recovery and prosperity,” Mr. Chesworth concluded.
Meanwhile, South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster admitted to being “really chuffed” that Leyland had secured its maximum share of Towns Fund cash – and would now be able to pursue all of the projects on its wish list.
Speaking to the Lancashire Post at the moment he opened the email confirming that £25m was coming the town’s way, he said: “We have all worked hard to secure this money for the people of Leyland.
“We were always in a really strong position – because [the bid] was basically the Leyland masterplan that we have been working on for two years. So we really were ‘shovel ready’ in that sense.
“I really do believe this will be transformational. The high street, post-Covid, will need a big lift and that is what this money will provide.
“Are we going to transform Leyland? Too right we are,” Cllr Foster added.
Leyland’s bid had attracted strong support from around 2,000 respondents to a public consultation held just before it was submitted last October.
Jennifer Gadsdon, chair of the Leyland Town Board, said that the outcome was “brilliant news for Leyland”.
“The funding will allow the improvement plan to become a reality and help to address the economic growth potential with a focus on digital connectivity, skills, enterprise and improved transport links,” she said.
South Ribble’s Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher said she was “absolutely delighted with the fantastic news that our government has given Leyland £25m to transform our amazing town and to deliver our hugely exciting Leyland Town Board plans”.
“This is an enormous investment in Leyland will ensure we build for our communities, our businesses and for our future.
“A huge thank you to Leyland Town Board who’ve worked so hard on the bid and to everyone who’s shared their thoughts and ideas on the Town Board plans.
“I’m hugely excited and looking forward to seeing our fantastic plans become a reality, with spades in the ground soon, building for Leyland’s future”
The Post understands that the successful bidders to have two months in which to produce detailed business cases to submit to the government and confirm which projects are being taken forward.
Some of the projects in Leyland’s bid also require the purchase of land, which Cllr Foster says the authority is already actively pursuing.