I HATE to criticize 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 pregnacies 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 college 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-story mills? They were not pretty in the 1800s and they are not now. Tourist 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.
Our MP and councillors should be fighting at every opportunity to get Burnley granted an Enterprise Zone, we certainly need it. But instead they are playing at catching votes on the hearts and minds of the public with their lost cause to bring back A&E to Burnley, and while they have been at it they have lost the children’s ward.
We lost the A&E when we had a Labour MP and Labour Government in charge and we lost the children’s ward when we had a Lib Dem MP and a Lib Dem/Con Coalition Government.
Lets face facts, they will never come back. Gordon tried hard but it is a dead horse that will not move. It is time to spend that energy elsewhere. The same is happening all over the country; it is not unique to Burnley. East Lancashire has one A&E, in Blackburn.
Our town centre, like a lot of small towns, is full of pound shops, charity shops, mobile phone shops, betting shops and boarded-up buildings. We can thank the big three supermarkets that dominate the town for that. When we go shopping we go to Bury, to Bury Markets, The Rock and department stores, or we go to retail parks such as Middlebrook or Deepdale.
Burnley does not have many of the big names such as Starbucks, Burger King, Mothercare, or a proper KFC restaurant or department stores, but has the audacity to charge parking when shoppers can go to any retail park and park for free.
Unfortunately I only see further decline for the town as more and more businesses move out. House prices will continue to fall as demand falls and those people fortunate enough to get out will. The houses will be back-filled with the dregs of society. We need a good MP/chief executive with vision, bravery and passion to put Burnley back on the map for the right reasons.
BORN AND BRED