That is the message set to be sent to ministers as part of a pitch for cash from the government’s Towns Fund.
Leyland was named last year as one of more than 100 locations across the country given the opportunity to bid for the regeneration funding – and is now poised to put its case to the government.
The town’s investment plan – a draft version of which has now been approved by South Ribble Borough Council – lays out three major projects that it is hoped would transform Leyland’s fortunes.
At the centre of the proposed scheme lies a radical revamp of the market area, including a major refurbishment of the market building itself – both inside and out.
A new market square would also be created on the site of the current car park for the facility, part of an ambitious range of upgrades to the public realm in the area. The wider project would see a ‘shared space’ road design introduced on Hough Lane, similar to that on Fishergate in Preston city centre.
It is also proposed to create a new hub for small and start-up businesses, linked in to the market square, on the site of the Iddons factory.
More than 1,600 people responded to a public consultation into plans for how the cash should be spent if it is ultimately sent Leyland’s way.
Cabinet member for planning Bill Evans said that the overwhelming majority of the comments were positive – with the overarching sentiment being, “about time”.
He added: “Something needed to be done. I’ve lived in Leyland all my life and I remember the good old days when we had Leyland Motors…and all kinds of industry.
“There’s no night-time economy at the moment either, so we’re interested in [developing] that,” Cllr Evans said.
Residents are now being asked to get behind a campaign in which they can register their support to demonstrate to the government the level of backing for the scheme amongst the local community.
Jennifer Gadson, chair of the Leyland Town Deal Board – an independent group established to put together the Towns Fund bid – said that Leyland needed “an identity”.
“It was felt that the lack of a clear centre and no distinct sense of purpose meant that Leyland wasn’t fulfilling its potential.
“Our vision was to create a new centre that would become a hub for residents to come in their spare time, that would attract workers to the area and become something that [the town] can be proud of,” Ms. Gadson added.
A meeting of the full council heard that efforts had been made to ensure that the proposals were “Covid-proof”, amid warnings from some members that demand for office space could decline in a post-pandemic world.
“We’re seeing nationally that local centres like Leyland are actually [getting] a lot of footfall at the moment and it’s city centres that are really suffering – so I think there is a real opportunity for Leyland,” said director of planning Jonathan Noad.
However, Cllr John Rainsbury said that the town’s popularity with residents elsewhere in the borough could be boosted further if it was more accessible by bus.
“There is no public transport between the western parishes and Leyland centre. I know a lot of people would prefer to shop in Leyland if they could – but not everybody has got cars,” he said.
Cllr Evans said that discussions with bus companies over the Town Deal proposal had been positive and he was confident that they would support the town if footfall could be increased.
Meanwhile, the bid document suggests that the plans could help to reverse the economic paradox across South Ribble in which strong qualification and high employment rates do not “translate into high quality jobs locally that are well remunerated, or a strong knowledge economy”.
There was cross-party support for the investment plan, with Conservative former council leader Margaret Smith giving it “wholehearted” backing, while Labour cabinet member for finance and Broadfield ward councillor Matthew Tomlinson added:
“I don’t care where the money comes from or the motivation behind it. If we get this money, we can transform our town – it’s long overdue,” he said.
LEYLAND LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
These are the details of the three proposed Town Deal projects:
A refurbishment, upgrade and expansion of the existing market to transform its “presence and perception” in the town centre. There would be an increase in stall space, including new stalls located outside to create a wider food and drink offering. The current service area would be relocated so that this external area connected to the new market square.
Town centre transformation
A new market square, on the site of the existing market car park, would provide a “focal point” for the town centre. It would incorporate a new building to define the revamped area, potentially with bars and restaurants on the ground floor – to develop the night-time economy – and apartments above.
Public realm improvements to Hough Lane would include a ‘shared space’ street design, a one-way system, seating and tree planting. Improved pedestrian and cycling facilities would be introduced to better connect the town centre to the station.
A Business Advisory, Skills and Enterprise (BASE) hub in a new building – with a rooftop terrace – on the site of the Iddons factory, next to the market car park. It would include flexible meeting and events space, along with a café that could be converted into a bar during the evening. Units would be provided for new and existing small businesses, plus a “digital literacy” area for skills training and a proposed recording studio.
LAND DEALS TO BE DONE
The vision for the town centre requires the purchase of two parcels of land on Quinn Street which are not currently in the council’s control. Councillors heard that £750,000 of “forward funding” issued to the area by the government would be used for the purpose.
The meeting was told that negotiations are ongoing, but Cllr Bill Evans admitted that additional cash may need to be found to complete the sale.