Leaders clash as town centre plan cost goes up

Artist's impression of Burnley town centre refurb
Artist's impression of Burnley town centre refurb

A war of words has broken out between councillors after it emerged an extra £300,000 will need to be stumped up towards a £3m. scheme to regenerate Burnley town centre.

The cost will be shared between Burnley Borough Council and Lancashire County Council, but former MP Gordon Birtwistle has slammed the plan as “a waste of money” and accused council bosses of getting their priorities wrong.

At a time of austerity, when libraries, bus services and children’s services are being cut, spending this extra money is ridiculous.

Coun. Gordon Birtwistle

Lancashire Highways has re-estimated the project cost at £3.29m. which is an increase of £296,000. The council’s Executive Committee is expected to agree Burnley’s share of £148,000 extra funding when it meets on Tuesday evening.

The Liberal Democrat leader on Burnley Council, who said his group will not back the plans, added: “At a time of austerity, when libraries, bus services and children’s services are being cut, spending this extra money is ridiculous.

“We have been sending out leaflets condemning this move and will not be backing the proposals. A lot of Burnley residents have commented that there was nothing wrong with the town centre and feel this is just a waste of money.

“The extra £300,000 could go towards employing people to look after our elderly.”

Coun. Birtwistle said he also feared this increase in costs could be the first of many during the length of the project, adding that council schemes are “notorious for over-runs.”

But Labour council leader Coun. Mark Townsend hit back and said the redevelopment would attract more businesses to the town centre.

He also accused the previous Liberal Democrat led council of “starving” the town centre of investment.

Coun. Townsend said: “Investment is right for Burnley. I am disappointed but not surprised that the opposition leader Coun. Birtwistle opposes the council’s proposal to invest an additional £150,000 into the regeneration of Burnley town centre.

“This comes on top of his opposition to the council putting money aside to attract a new anchor store and demolish the decaying cinema block.

“When Labour took control of the council from the Liberal Democrats both Burnley and Padiham town centres were starved of investment and unbelievably there were no plans to change that situation.

“In addition to investing in Burnley town centre the council has recently bid for and secured funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a five year ‘Crafting the Future’ programme to revitalise Padiham town centre.

“If the Liberal Democrat policy to cut investment in the town centre was implemented it would send a message to visitors, retailers and potential investors that Burnley is not open for business and jobs in the wider economy would be put at risk.

“Labour believes that both town centres are vital to the future prosperity of the borough as a whole and we will continue to invest when we can during these financially challenging times.”

• The regeneration scheme aims to make the pedestrianised area of St James’s Street, between Hammerton Street and Hall Street, more attractive and provide a better shopping experience for shoppers, visitors, businesses and anyone who lives and works in the town.

New paving, street furniture and trees will be installed as part of the work. The “gormless” lamp-post and bandstand will also be eventually removed and relocated.