MORE than 3,000 jobs could be coming to Chorley and Leyland after Lancashire County Council announced plans for warehouses, logistics and industrial units on land that was earmarked for a flagship furniture store.

County Hall chiefs discussed the plans for the huge plot of land off the M6 and M65 motorways at their cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon.

The future shape of the scheme – known as Lancashire Central – was thrown into doubt last May when IKEA walked away from building the site’s flagship store.   

After nearly a year of speculation about who might replace the Swedish giant,  Lancashire County Council has today announced that the project is heading in a totally different direction - away from retail.

The authority has unveiled its vision to turn the 65 hectare development into a logistics and distribution hub, with the potential to add £200m of gross value to the Lancashire economy each year.

It is estimated that 3,000 jobs will be created on the site – 1,500 fewer than when it was planned to be a retail-led development.

But County Hall insists that the jobs now expected to come to the area will be of “higher value”.

Chorley Citizen:

Lancashire Central Indicative Plans April 2019

Previous plans for 210 homes on the plot are unaffected by the wider changes.

Also among the good news will include the authority investing tens of millions of pounds on the road network.

Stephen Young, Lancashire County Council’s executive director for growth, environment and transport, says that the plans had changed partially because retail is facing so many challenges.

“IKEA was a really iconic development and the right thing to do at that particular time,” he explains.

“But if we leave retail in there, there is a real risk of cannibalising the town centres of Preston and Leyland – and that doesn’t serve the purpose of what we want to do as the major place-shaper in the area.  

“There will still be some roadside retail to serve the site itself and motorway users coming off at that junction, but I don’t think that a major out-of-town shopping centre is appropriate.”

While a hotel, car sales showroom and food retail units are all still mooted as potential occupiers of part of the site, the main focus now appears to be on logistics, warehousing and light industrial units.   Some office space will also be created under the revised plans.

The revamped vision was drawn up after the county council assessed the needs of the businesses that could be attracted to the area, which was formerly known as the Cuerden development.

“If you look up and down the M6 and M61 corridors, the growth of logistics is huge.   It’s probably one of the big growth areas in the country at the moment – so we know there is a lot of unmet demand and potential,” Stephen Young says.

“Potentially, you could have big supermarket chains basing their distribution hubs here.   Or you could have online companies which are delivering directly to the customer.”

“These are huge blank canvases and the end user can decide what they want.”

The county council’s economic development boss says that the authority is taking “no great risk” by building before tenants have agreed terms.

“Whatever you’re building in this market, it’s very rare that you can get somebody signed up and they’re not at risk of, say, going bust – most development by its nature has to be speculative,” Mr Young says.

“When you have a user in the market who wants however many square feet, you then have it ready and they can take that unit from you.”

The authority is also confident that the development will “pay for itself” – although County Hall will invest cash upfront to get the project off the ground.   It emerged last year that over £900,000 had been spent on site preparation works before IKEA pulled out of the project.

The council expects to recoup its money either when it sells individual plots or by renting them out and creating a regular income stream – no fixed model has yet been decided.

“We didn’t want to come forward with something that was going to cost the taxpayers of Lancashire huge amounts of money,” Stephen Young says.

It is forecast that £250m of public and private sector investment will be pumped into the site.   

New planning permissions will have to be granted for some parts of the project and it is expected that it will be a decade before the development is completed.   

However, work will take place in phases and the first businesses are expected to take up residence in 2021.

“We are really excited about this, it’s a huge development for Lancashire and it demonstrates to the market that they should have confidence in the county council to bring these sites forward,” Stephen Young adds.

A spending cap has been put on redesigning the roads close to the Lancashire Central site spending has been agreed by Lancashire County Council’s cabinet, but the exact figure cannot be revealed because contracts to carry out the work be put out to tender.

The authority’s executive director for growth, environment and transport, Stephen Young, has pledged that the infrastructure will be completed before the development opens.

“We want to improve the local economy, but we don’t want to upset other road users passing by the site and coming into the city – or to make their journeys more difficult,” he says.

“The vehicles will come off the motorway, fill up and they’re back on the move straight away.  “It could not be better other than having the motorway running through the centre of the site.”

County Hall has carried out twelve months of traffic modelling work to ensure the roads in the area can cope.

Last year, Geraint Johnes, professor of economics at Lancaster University, said that logistics sites like the one now planned in South Ribble can provide employment opportunities without the traffic congestion often associated with traditional retail developments.

Lancashire County Council is expected to retain the business rates generated by the industrial plots and any levies laid on the housing developer in order to fund the road upgrades.

Lancashire County Council says that one of the reasons that it chose not to sell the Cuerden site outright and generate a one-off cash windfall was so that it could influence who helps to build it.

The authority is planning to make local jobs and apprenticeships a key part of its plans.

“If we had sold the site undeveloped, we would have lost control of it,” County Hall’s economic development chief, Stephen Young, explains.

“A key part of the conversation with development partners will be to insist that they work with local schools to get young girls, particularly, into engineering and construction.

“We will work more generally to encourage young people to take up science, technology, engineering and maths.  

“And we can insist that apprenticeships are reserved for, say, looked after children, or Lancashire children in general – and that’s really important to us.”