I HATE to criticise the town I was born, work and live in, but Burnley for the wrong reasons has hit the national press twice in one week.
Firstly, the story about having four out of five streets that have the cheapest property prices in England and Wales and secondly the story about the number of people who were claiming incapacity benefits, where seven out of 10 are now being removed from this benefit in favour of job seekers allowance.
In the past we have had other notorious records for the wrong reasons: race riots, highest burglary rates per household, teenage pregnancies etc., nothing to be proud of! So what has gone wrong? How has our once industrious town declined so badly?
I am fortunate to work for one of the few large successful organisations in Burnley and see a steady stream of new professional people who come from outside the area. Their first impressions are they love the company and its people but none of them have actually bought a home in Burnley. They will always move to the Ribble Valley, Rossendale Valley or some other area away from Burnley. Their main reason? Schools, crime and the general consensus that Burnley is a deprived area in which to live.
On schools, the race riots did the town a lot of harm by removing traditional catchment areas and redrawing boundaries. If you want good schooling (average or above national grades) you need to find religion to get at St Christopher’s in Accrington or be Catholic; you would be surprised at the number of people attending church with the sole purpose of getting their children in these schools. The grammar school system worked and so did catchment areas in the right area of town. The town will neither attract nor retain the right people with the current system. We have fantastic new buildings but they do not make the grades.
We have our beautiful-looking college which will be charging as much as some of the red brick universities in fees. I am not sure having a degree from Burnley will make potential employers put you forward for selection; there is still brand snobbery when recruiting.
Another area that Burnley needs to address is the old terraced housing, the majority of it needs knocking down. The town had a 73,500 population at the 2001 census and in reality we do not have jobs to support the population. The town needs to shrink by 20,000 to create supply and demand in the property market as this is what dictates the price.
Empty properties and low rents will always attract the wrong sort of people. The gateways to Burnley need sorting out: Trafalgar Street, Westgate, Accrington Road and Colne Road are a disgrace. It says everything about the town in the first two miles from leaving Junction 10 of the M65. The Weavers’ Triangle is a dream that will never happen. One or two decent buildings should be saved that can be put to some sort of use but who wants big multi-storey mills? They were not pretty in the 1800s and they are not now. Tourists are not going to start flocking to Burnley to see them, they are not going to bring untold riches and full employment to the town. How much money has Harle Syke Mill and Towneley Hall brought to the town? I think you will find they cost more to run.
BURNLEY BORN AND BRED