1.1 I am Stephen H Weaver BA (Hons), Dip Ed, Dip URP. I have been Chief Executive of Blackpool Council (an upper tier unitary authority) since April 2002. Previously to that I worked for Blackburn with Darwen Council for 28 years and prior to that for Lancashire County Council.
1.2 In my 36 years working for Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool I have been involved in place shaping and regeneration working as a Town Planner, Director of Policy and Communities and Deputy Chief Executive of Blackburn City Challenge and bring that background and knowledge to inform my evidence.
2.1 In summary my evidence focuses on the negative Impact Tithebarn will have on Blackpool while producing minimal net benefit to Lancashire and the North West. Making it much harder to deal with both the high level of need and opportunity presented in Blackpool.
2.2 This negative impact is not just limited to Blackpool but to other centres on the Fylde coast. Blackpool’s economy is weak, vulnerable and at a crossroads. It could either continue the very early tentative signs of a reversal of a long decline in its fortunes and slowly recover; or it could continue to weaken. The consequences of this decline in both the performance of the town centre and visitor economy, is high social deprivation, placing Blackpool as the most deprived place in Lancashire and one of the worst in the UK. Over the last decade the important role of Blackpool’s Town Centre, in forming a key part of regeneration in Blackpool and the Fylde Coast, has been consistently identified as a critical component part. The Town Centre is important not just as an economic driver on its own but also a key adjunct to a successful visitor economy. The need and opportunity presented by Blackpool has been recognised at a sub-regional, regional and national level.
2.3 Evidence provided to the consortium and presented to the enquiry in terms of retail and economic impact shows that Tithebarn succeeds principally by drawing in spend and jobs from all of Lancashire, with significant impact on Blackpool and the Fylde Coast. Only a relatively small part of the expenditure to support Tithebarn is through retaining spend in Lancashire which leaks to Manchester. Even if, in terms of sustainability and quality of Place, it was sensible, which it isn’t, for jobs created in Preston to be filled by people in Blackpool it will not happen. The Fylde economy is very self-contained and for relatively low wage retail jobs the cost of accessing those jobs would exclude Blackpool’s population from them.
2.4 Even with significant investment in some of Blackpool’s key public infrastructure; such as the seafront, tramway and strategic gateways; Private Sector investment is yet to follow without direct public support. This underlines the precarious position of the economy. Yet Blackpool has the potential to be an asset not just for the economy of Lancashire or of the North West but for the UK.
2.5 The impact of Tithebarn will be felt from the point of an approval, not just when completed. An approval even on a scheme not to be completed for several years would create uncertainty which would stop investment decisions in Blackpool.