Blackpool leader’s seaside town link plan

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn
Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn

Blackpool’s council leader has dismissed speculation the resort could one day be controlled by an elected mayor for Lancashire.

Coun Simon Blackburn says the formation of any kind of ‘Greater Lancashire’ authority would see power taken out of the hands of Blackpool residents.

There can be no talk of the formation of a ‘Greater Lancashire’ authority which sees power taken out of the hands of Blackpudlians

He added the resort would be better off linking up with other seaside towns instead – although some issues such as transport and planning for new homes would benefit from a county-wide approach.

Coun Blackburn was reacting to government plans to devolve power in England including the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’ with regions having more control over areas including health, policing, housing, transport and skills.

Talks have already been held among the 15 councils in Lancashire to consider the possibility of a new combined authority for the county.

Coun Blackburn said: “Blackpool became a unitary authority because we did not feel that a council the size of Lancashire County Council could pay enough attention to our very specific needs – Blackburn with Darwen clearly felt the same.

“In recent months, both Wyre and Chorley have indicated a preference for unitary status, so clearly that feeling has not gone away.

“There can, therefore, be no talk of an elected mayor for Lancashire, or the formation of a ‘Greater Lancashire’ authority which sees power taken out of the hands of Blackpudlians – but I’m not against negotiating around issues where there may be a common set of aims – education planning and strategic housing matters present themselves as obvious areas which bear further exploration.

“In the final analysis however, Blackpool has more in common with places like Hastings than it does with places like the Ribble Valley.

“In the coming months, therefore, I will be exploring the possibility of working with other seaside towns – some of whom might, like Blackpool, want local control over housing benefit budgets, as a tool to dealing with a large surplus of former hotel accommodation, to name but one issue.”

He is now set to hold talks with leaders of other seaside towns to discuss the possibility of seeking shared devolved powers.

Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said there would be benefits to councils working more closely together in the county.

She added: “A combined authority would provide greater local control for the whole of Lancashire, enabling more strategic decision making to take place at a local level rather than in London.

“Councils across Lancashire have had some very positive discussions about how it would work in practice and how we could maximise the benefit of such an arrangement for everyone in the county.

“In a combined authority, councils continue to exist and continue to run local services. What would change is that decisions that can only be taken effectively across a bigger area, around issues like transport and the economy, would made in a joined-up way by representatives from across Lancashire.

“We’ve seen a similar approach already with Transport for Lancashire, which is a good example of councils working effectively and closely together.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden has also called for devolution plans to deliver growth for Blackpool.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: “Rhetoric about a so-called northern powerhouse can seem very thin in a town such as Blackpool where we have endured funding cuts of nearly 40 per cent over the past four years.

“This Government must tell us how their devolution plans will deliver not just for big cities but for the smaller towns and the seaside and coastal towns.

“We need strategies that do not create divisions amongst regions.”

Chancellor George Osborne has said devolved powers will reduce the north-south divide by creating a ‘northern powerhouse’ with regions having more control over areas including health, policing, housing, transport and skills.

But currently it is proposed the new areas with devolved powers would have to have an elected mayor.