We need to truly level up our most deprived areas | Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar column

We all want to see our borough thriving and businesses booming.
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As a council we have a track record of ensuring we apply for any government funding if it is viable and fits in with our plans and strategic priorities.

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We pushed ahead with our plans to make Pioneer Place a reality, a project that many thought would never happen. We are on track to deliver the expansion of UCLAN, the Town to Turf Project and making further improvements to Burnley Manchester Road station.

Burnley Council leader Afrasiab AnwarBurnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar
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These projects were made possible because they were already a part of our Canalside and Town Centre Masterplan and we had the support of partners, allowing us to make successful bids for government funding.

We await a decision on our bid to the Youth Investment Fund which if successful, will provide a youth offer in the town centre. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund although much reduced in comparison to previous funding streams will also be welcome and allow us to continue much needed existing projects.

We are currently in the process of submitting an Expression of Interest to create Investment Zones in Burnley. Announced as part of the disaster that was the 'mini budget', the government announced a proposal to introduce the zones across 38 areas, including Lancashire.

Investment Zones are seen as a way of bringing new business investment, job creation and new homes to communities, thanks to tax incentives and simplified planning rules. The idea is to create exciting opportunities and drive growth across local economies helping to transform and level up local communities.

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But as ever, with this government there is very little detail and information on how the Investment Zones will work. There is also a danger that rather than create new skilled jobs, Investment Zones are likely to displace economic activity rather than generate new opportunities. The plans could also mean planning rules will be over-ridden with local communities having little or no say.

We will always welcome any plans to invest in our area. However, with Investment Zones the proposals are very unclear. It must also be noted, that although councils are being encouraged to submit expressions of interest, there is no infrastructure investment and no actual monies to bid for.

We believe it would make more sense if we could identify priorities for our borough that have a lasting impact. For example, funding for housing on brownfield sites and a return of the Housing Market Renewal programme, this would bring much needed investment and growth and truly level up our most deprived areas.

The Investment Zones appear to be an act of desperation by the government and could quickly go the way of the 'levelling up' agenda if not properly thought out.

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We would never turn down any desperately needed investment on behalf of our residents, but for once it would be nice if it was structured, well thought out and clearly detailed. We are yet to see this from the proposals we are being asked to submit in very unrealistic time frames.