Morecambe-born Wayne Hemingway - who shot to fame over 30 years ago as co-founder of the Red or Dead fashion label - has been drafted in to help reshape the town’s main retail area on Liverpool Road, along with the neighbourhood centres in Middleforth and Kingsfold.
Residents and businesses will get the chance to have their say on how they would like to see Penwortham develop during a three-week public consultation into an embryonic “masterplan” - which includes a drop-in event next week outlining the initial proposals.
Thunderstorms and heavy downpours of rain predicted to hit Lancashire as Met Office issues yellow weather warning
Man killed in late night crash on A6 Chorley Road near Blackrod
M6, M61 and M55 delays in Preston due to Blackpool Air Show and Lake District holiday traffic
Preston man remains in a critical condition as Lancashire Police appeal for witnesses
Video shows man in van wielding weapon in Preston city centre fight
Led by South Ribble Borough Council, the process will mark the start of a long-promised project to redesign key parts of the town after the opening of the Penwortham bypass, John Horrocks Way, back in December 2019.
It will build on the findings of a previous survey three years ago, which found that a reduction in the speed limit on Liverpool Road, more parking and a better overall appearance were amongst the top priorities of locals.
They will now be asked for their thoughts specifically on halving the width of the carriageway from 12 to six metres - and using the resultant freed-up space to provide more room for pedestrians, a segregated cycle lane and dedicated spaces for retailers outside their premises. It would also allow for the planting of trees along the street and the installation of more planters and “pocket gardens”.
While it is not proposed to reduce the amount of parking available for visitors to Liverpool Road, people will be asked what they think of plans to “rationalise” it and make the layout of spaces more coherent than they currently are.
For Wayne Hemingway, it is not about “major change” - but taking the chance to capitalise on shifts in shopping habits that were happening prior to the pandemic and have been accelerated by it.
“There is a real opportunity for smaller places like Penwortham to take advantage of the public moving more towards supporting independent [retailers].
“The reason why the BHSs and the Debenhams have been closing and will continue to do so, is not just about the internet at all. The main reason is a societal shift where people are starting to support independent culture - especially the younger generation.
“Covid has made people want to stay closer to home, but also enjoy getting out in their local street. It has brought more of an awareness of loving your local places, but we were already on a route to dining outside and being more convivial.
“We can’t let our high streets die - they have to go back to being the places that they were when I was growing up - where you meet people, have fun, pass the time away and do what human beings do best: and that’s get on with each other.”
Wayne - whose Hemingway Design consultancy will undertake the work in Penwortham together with real estate consultancy GL Hearn - says that the mix of outlets in the town is something that the market will always dictate, but the masterplan can help set the tone.
“[We can] create a place that [businesses] want to open in - so if we do make it a calmer place where it is easier to cross the road, then we are likely to see more nice cafes and food shops.
“Now that the bypass has been done and has reduced traffic, it is time to go to the next stage. If it means slowing down traffic then so be it - if people are rushing to get through, they’ll use the bypass.
“The main thing is to get ideas from people who live in Penwortham and visit it - they know best,” explains Wayne, who branched out into wider design projects in the late 1990s and is now a professor in the built environment department at Northumbria University.
Cash was set aside from the £17.5m bypass - financed by the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal - for enhancements elsewhere in the town.
As the Lancashire Post revealed last year, that included just over £800,000 for improvements to the Hutton to Higher Penwortham corridor, some of which was set to cover the cost of redesigning the junction of Liverpool Road with the bypass and remodelling of the Leyland Road roundabout at the other end of the town following the closure of the sliproad onto the Guild Way flyover.
However, South Ribble leader Paul Foster says that there was a wider opportunity to “regenerate and rejuvenate the whole Liverpool Road area” which had to be seized - leading the council to step in and stump up the funding.
“What’s great about this [process] is that I don't know what people are going to come back with - it’s a proper consultation combined with cutting-edge design.
“We’ve got the cash and we’ve got one of the country’s best designers on board - so it’s phenomenal what could be achieved.”
Cllr Foster’s hope is that the revamp will help cement a growing awareness amongst residents that they “don’t have to travel out of South Ribble to have a really nice family evening out”.
He also acknowledged the importance of the masterplan's capacity to better define the “hubs” of Kingsfold and Middleforth - and provide better access to public services in these areas.
Middleforth ward councillor James Flannery is keen to ensure that the consultation process draws on the “local knowledge” of areas away from the primary retail centre.
“Things will happen on Leyland Road that don't happen on Liverpool Road. We know that Liverpool Road is an economic driver, but nevertheless we’ve got to do as much as we possibly can - along with Kingsfold and Charnock - [for other parts of Penwortham].
“But let the people tell us what they want. They know what the limitations will be, but if their priority is A, B and C and we can give them that, then everyone benefits,” Cllr Flannery added.
Meanwhile, David Howarth - county councillor for Penwortham West and a South Ribble borough representative for Howick and Priory ward - says that the town’s public spaces are in need of an upgrade to reflect and increase its popularity as a retail destination.
“Unlike many other high streets, businesses are queuing up to come into Penwortham - we no longer have an empty Booths store or an empty row of shops. Liverpool Road is thriving and vibrant - but the state of some of the public realm is just appalling and it really does need bringing up to scratch.
“When the weather is sunny, people do want to sit out to have something to eat and drink. We’re looking at enhancing the high street and making it attractive for people to come in and shop.
“But there still obviously has to be room for local traffic to move around, because we have to be conscious that not everybody can walk for miles or get on a bike,” Cllr Howarth added.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The consultation will run until 25th August and includes a drop-in workshop at Priory Lane Community Centre between 1pm and 6pm next Tuesday (10th August). Members of the design team will be available to talk people through the initial concepts for the area and listen to any comments.
Residents can also complete an online survey here or pick up a feedback form from one of the local shops displaying a consultation poster in their window.
Three fully-formed designs to revamp Penwortham – including the creation of a central boulevard and a “narrow meandering high street” – were put forward by Lancashire County Council as far back as 2013.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked shoppers on Liverpool Road what changes they would like to see now that they are being invited to consider the town's future post-bypass and post-pandemic.
Penwortham resident Kathryn Sey was pleased with the reduction in traffic since the bypass opened - and said that it offered an opportunity for people to enjoy the town centre, provided the right facilities were in place.
“Perhaps a few more seats where people could just stop and sit would be nice - but I've got no complaints about Penwortham.
“I don’t find that I have to go into Preston anymore really - we've got the new Tesco now as well, so we are pretty self-sufficient.
“Penwortham is really changing, though - we have about a dozen places along here where you can get food. It would be nice to see other kinds of shops, but there isn't the room now,” said Kathryn.
However, she was resolute about one thing she did not want to see come to the town - a controversial Lancashire County Council-proposed one-way system planned for Kingsway - ending access to the street from Liverpool Road - in order to facilitate the segregated cycle superhighway being developed on the A59 route from Penwortham to Preston.
“There are an awful lot of people who aren't happy with it, especially those who will have to go a long way round to get back to their house,” said Kathryn, whose sentiment was shared by another passer-by who had formally objected to the proposal.
Penwortham-born Jacqueline Hall moved away from the town 35 years ago when she got married, but returns regularly to see family.
She says that Penwortham looks and functions better than it ever did.
“There has never been a need to leave Penwortham if you didn't want to go further afield - and there certainly isn't now. It has always been quite a good place for independent shops, although some have gone in recent years like the shoe shop.”
Her husband Andrew added: “The only way you could really improve on it would be to reduce the traffic further, but then businesses cannot afford to lose their passing trade.
“The recent changes have given more reason for people to come out and browse.”
Alison Sefton said that a café culture was already being established in Penwortham - and that she hopes it will become something that the town is known for.
“It’s so nice to see everybody sitting outside together and enjoying the improvements that have already been made,” she said.
Although shop worker Angela - who only wanted to give her first name - fears that the town may have reached saturation point when it comes to drinking establishments.
“You’d never die of thirst around here,” she quipped.