A masterplan to boost the economic growth of South Ribble and Central Lancashire is on the verge of becoming reality.
Up to 2,500 jobs could be created at the Cuerden Strategic Site at the end of the M65, through a mix of commerce, industrial and leisure developments.
For 20 years, the 65-acre site bordering Lostock Lane and Stanifield Lane has been earmarked for development, but now Lancashire County Council (LCC), the majority land owner, has released a draft masterplan document ready for a public consultation.
LCC claim the the development would be “a key driver of economic growth and job creation in the sub region.”
The Cuerden Strategic Site is the largest site identified under the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal – an investment of more than £430m, which will deliver transport, infrastructure and community improvements, bringing forward three decades of growth over the next 10 years.
The City Deal includes creating thousands of new jobs, building new homes and making improvements across the City Deal area. Any development at Cuerden would also be supported by road improvements, including the widening of the A582 into a dual carriageway.
Business leaders have welcomed the news, but warned that new, sustainable employment needed to be generated.
Babs Murphy, chief executive at North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce said: “This is excellent news. The site is one of the of the region’s key employment areas and a significant driver for economic growth.
“When you include the other elements of City Deal it’s clear that this part of central Lancashire will become a major hotspot for jobs and investment.
“However in order to get the full benefit the proposals need to generate new and sustainable employment and not simply displace investment that may have gone elsewhere in the county.”
Members of South Ribble Council’s planning committee will meeting next Thursday to decide whether or not to approve the document for public consultation.
Coun Cliff Hughes, South Ribble Borough Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for Strategic Planning and Housing, said: “We are committed to supporting the growth of our borough by meeting the development needs of businesses.
“We want to make the right land available at the right time to support investment and innovation, which will provide opportunities for our highly-skilled workforce. We also must manage this growth in a co-ordinated way, so this masterplan has been developed to ensure a comprehensive approach is adopted for the site, which itself is part of a much bigger jigsaw.
“The potential of the land at Cuerden has been recognised for many years. It could bring huge benefits to communities, not only in South Ribble, but across Central Lancashire and the wider region. Development will also drive improvements in our town and village centres and the provision of new amenities.
“If my colleagues on the planning committee decide that the masterplan would deliver the best outcome for our communities, people would be invited to have their say on the proposals as part of a six-week public consultation.”
Local Farington parish, borough and County Coun Mike Otter said: “I think it’s a very positive thing for Farington and South Ribble as a whole.
“The really important thing to me is that they want to put the infrastructure, the roads, in first.
“I think the only concern has been from a property owner in Old School Lane, as they would be surrounded by commercial development. But I think they’ve met with councillors and most of their worries have been allayed.”
The draft masterplan states that any future development at Cuerden must be sensitive to identified natural and ecological features.
A habitat survey carried out in 2012 for LCC identified the need for consideration to be given to the retention and/or managed alteration of features including trees, hedgerows, grasslands, ponds and watercourses.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, whose constituency covers the Lostock Hall area, also welcomed the news.
He said: “I think the important factor is 2,500 jobs for the area. There are still people who are long-term unemployed, and that is a tragedy for them.
“And I hope that there is imagination in terms of retail outlets. We don’t want the same-old-same-old. We want the kind of places where people currently have to go Manchester and London for.”
He added: “It’s good to see that there is also goijng to be a balance to the plans, with large swaythes of green properly protected for future generations.”