Well, that didn’t take long. Among the predictions in our slightly tongue-in-cheek predictions for North West property in 2011 was something about continuing complaints from neighbouring local authorities over Preston Tithebarn. Already it’s been confirmed that Blackburn with Darwen Council is to appeal the government’s approval of the £700m, 1.5 million sq ft retail-led Lend Lease scheme.
Dave Harling, executive member for regeneration at Blackburn, said it wanted answer from the government: “After a six-week inquiry the inspector agreed with us that the Tithebarn planning application was flawed and should be rejected. The minister overturned this decision, but it is not clear how he reached his decision and we believe that there are procedural improprieties that need further investigation.”
No one’s really covered themselves in glory over the whole Tithebarn saga. Grosvenor had worked on the scheme from the late 1990s, before the Duke of Westminster’s men found themselves suffering with spiraling costs and falling values in Liverpool. It backed out of the scheme in October 2009, leaving Australian giant Lend Lease as the sole private sector developer. But all along, the PR charm offensive has never been completely convincing in the way Liverpool One was and even getting to planning was fraught.
Preston was always going to approve Tithebarn – it has a mess of a shopping offer and who’s going to turn down £700m investment to improve it? But the scheme was always going to come under pressure at inquiry and so it proved.
Equally, with Eric Pickles keen to kickstart development and provide some showpieces after the dreary dog days of Labour’s last years, the report by his Department of Communities and Local Government was nailed on to overrule the inspector.
The report said Tithebarn would provide “significant benefits” for Preston in jobs, GVA and improving public realm while it wouldn’t “undermine any existing, committed, or planned investments, or have any significant adverse impact on the vitality or viability, trade or turnover of Blackburn, Blackpool or Preston centres”.
One could read that as: “These retail centres are dying on their arses anyway, so if someone wants to spend big on one, then good luck to them.” There’s some pretty serious wealth in Lancashire, but it will never be spent in Blackburn, Blackpool or anywhere else – Preston, for all its flaws, is really the only place with the weight to carry this off. The others may as well accept that and play the hand they’ve been dealt rather than gifting more legal fees.
Our prediction about Tithebarn complaints ended with a flippant “nothing will happen anyway” and, with all due deference to Lend Lease’s weighty track record, in this climate no-one should believe this is happening until they see construction cranes towering over Preston.
Any comments? Neil Tague, Insider