Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by Wyre Borough Council (CT 49)


  1.  Wyre Borough Council would wish to draw the Committee's attention to:

    1.  The need to recognize the unique challenges for coastal resorts as distinct from urban centres.

    2.  The need to have an understanding of the grass-roots impact of regional priorities, in arresting further decline and redressing imbalances, together with the need to provide integrated solutions to such issues.

    3.  A requirement for packaged support availability to recognize the need for infrastructure measures, that provide the economic catalysts to sustainable economic growth.

    4.  The need to develop and provide sub-regional investment policies, which transcend traditional boundaries, and create joint working best practice.

    5.  The need to gear any measures to practical delivery, and, where necessary, provide "hot spot" support.


  2.1  Wyre Borough Council is a Lancashire district authority covering urban and rural settlements, including the coastal towns of Cleveleys and Fleetwood. This submission's focus is Fleetwood.


  3.1  Fleetwood is a peninsular town located on the Fylde Coast. It has a population of 26,882 (source ONS, 2006) with three out of five of its wards falling into the 5% to 10% most deprived wards in England, based on the Index of Multiple Deprivation. This evidences the progressive deterioration in the socio-economic structure of Fleetwood, as only one ward (Pharos) was previously within the 10% category.


  4.1  Unemployment levels in Fleetwood stand at an average of 3.1%, over the five wards, rising to 4.3% in the Pharos Ward, compared to the district average of 1.5% of the total working age population (source ONS, January, 2006). These figures peak for males in the Pharos ward, at 6.4%. There are 5.2%, 4.8%, 4.7% and 3.0% male unemployment levels in the adjacent four wards. Female unemployment is significantly higher also in the five Fleetwood wards.


  5.1  The main stock of housing in the urban core wards, where deprivation is of great concern, has remained at basic amenity standard for many years, and although not fundamentally unsound or incapable of revitalization, there is a lack of prosperity to address the problems, and seek to improve neighborhood standards.

  5.2  There has been no major programme of house building, adding to or upgrading quality, for many years. Much of the new build is sporadic, as is the improvement of older stock.

  5.3  Some premises have been developed for transient use and multiple-occupation, but not to the same extent as major resort towns.


  6.1  Levels of attainment for school leavers are below average at Fleetwood High School, the only state sector school in the town, with 27% of pupils achieving A* to C GCSE grades, by comparison with the national average of 53.7%, and the local education authority average of 53.8%. The attainment in A* to G grades was equally well below the national and LEA averages. (source DfES league tables 2005)


  7.1  Such levels of attainment are also reflected in the accessibility to further education and employment. Of 258 school leavers in 2004, 143 (55.4%) went into further education, mainly to redress the shortfall in qualifications gained at high school level, whilst a minority, 24 (9.3%) went into any form of employment with associated vocational training. Some 54 (20.9%) entered worklessness, adding to the statistics. (source Careerlink 2004)


  8.1  The workforce within Fleetwood is both adaptable and versatile.

  8.2  Former occupations such as fishing and the chemicals industry having now disappeared, caused a considerable problem in re-skilling into other industries at craft and semi-skilled levels. This left an unskilled and labour-only workforce to fend for itself. The problem has not yet been totally eradicated.

  8.3  Some unemployment has been absorbed by the building and construction industry, although there is an emerging demand for this training to be re-instituted. Many redundancies gave opportunity to those displaced to enter into self-employment, as a result of which, the Wyre district boasts a self-employed sector of some 8,500.


  9.1  Benefit dependency in Wyre district amounted to some £31 million in 2004 with the largest proportion attributed to worklessness and long-term disablement benefit payments in Fleetwood wards (source Jobcentre Plus)


  10.1  Pharos ward has a considerable crime and disorder problem, (1,278 crimes) mainly centered around the 15 to 19 year old age group, and predominantly male. Of these 87% was re-offending activity, and 25.9% of which was committed by the unemployed. (source Lancashire Constabulary 2004)


  11.1  Transport links into Fleetwood are problematic. The A585 link into the motorway network (M55—Preston to Blackpool) is poor and the proposed new link to the motorway has not been recognized as a regional priority. There is no rail link into Fleetwood, having been cut as part of the 1960's Beeching Review. Investment is required to upgrade the Blackpool tramway, and extend this into a light railway proposal which could serve the Fleetwood peninsular and on into the hinterland, where there is limited rural service. The problems associated with the A585 and accessibility to the motorway network is cited by local businesses as the single most inhibiting factor for development in Fleetwood.


  12.1  Industrial and commercial development has been at a standstill for some 10 to 15 years, in Fleetwood. The town has a substantial number of mid-band SME companies, but no employer with a profile beyond the level of 200 employees. Companies have not grown in size or stature, nor have there been any major developments in the fields of new technologies or non-traditional businesses.

  12.2  The stock of commercial property is generally in decline, with little evidence of investment in renewal or growth. Many properties and sites have remained unoccupied for periods in excess of 3 years, and as a consequence their condition has deteriorated, making them unattractive to potential investors.


  13.1  A similar situation applies to retail property, with much of the worn-out Victorian stock having seen poor quality multiple restorations, wearing out the structures to a point where major restoration/regeneration would be necessary to attract interest, or areas would be considered as clearance standard, to afford future opportunity.


14.   Port Economy

  14.1  Fleetwood has a strong tradition as a fishing port. There has however been a sharp reduction in the number of fishing vessels operating out of Fleetwood, with approximately 18 as of October 2004. The industry that once provided employment for 9000 people now employs, directly and indirectly about 1000. Recognising this, the focus of the Fleetwood fishing industry has shifted from the catching sector to the processing sector. Whilst independent studies (Poseidon 2002? commissioned by the NWRA and more recently the Maritime Study commissioned by the NWDA) have identified strong growth potential within the fish-processing sector, sustainability continues to be of concern. A further study, commissioned by the NWDA and the local industry and prompted by the Maritime Strategy is currently underway.

  14.2  It has the principal objective of preparing an option analysis of the maintenance and development of the Fleetwood fish-processing sector. The draft report has already identified that the potential for development in Fleetwood cannot be considered in isolation from the problems and opportunities facing the remainder of the British fishing industry.

  14.3  It identifies key drivers for change including the importance of supermarkets in the distribution of fish and fish products, an inclination towards traceability of fish products, market trends, the need for product differentiation and the increasing importance of regional foods. The draft report asserts that given favorable circumstances, the Fleetwood fish processors can use these drivers in rejuvenating the sector on the basis of their traditional activity and experience in the sector.

  14.4  Within a regional context, however fishing is deemed of limited importance. This is reflected in the Regional Economic Strategy for the North West, which does not refer to the sector: an approach that may not be consistent with other Regional Economic Strategies. Fishing is of considerable importance in terms of local economies, and a healthy fish-processing sector can generate increased economic benefits with limited public expenditure and this is important where alternative economic opportunities are scarce.

  14.5  Investment is required in the infrastructure and to support cluster development. At this time, there is concern that the lack of recognition for the industry within the RES and therefore, subsequently, the lack of intervention may prohibit the delivery of effective solutions for the industry. Not only would this hamper the growth potential of the industry, but also without intervention the industry is unlikely to be sustainable.

  14.6  With regard to other port activities, it is essentially a Ro-Ro ferry port for the Irish market, handling accompanied and unaccompanied freight. It has restricted maritime access and a report, commissioned by the NWDA, NW Ports Economic Trends and Land Use Study has questioned the long-term viability of the port for commercial traffic, with a future focus on leisure activities. (The port does have a successful marina operation, which is the only facility on this reach of the coast, between north Cumbria and north Wales.)

  14.7  Whilst the issue of viability is disputed by the port owners and Stena-Line who operate a successful service ferry service, the potential impact on the local economy if the assumptions are correct is of concern. Within the RES, Fleetwood is not identified as a key port. The RES has identified Liverpool and Heysham docks for significant investment, direct competitors of the Fleetwood port. Again, as with the fishing industry, the concern is that the lack of a coordinated approach to intervention in Fleetwood will not only hinder growth, but will actually decimate the local economy even further.


  15.1  Historically, the second major employer in Fleetwood was the chemical sector. However, the closure of ICI (1999) which at its height employed 4,500 people (source ICI) has resulted in the loss of several million pounds spending power from the local economy. The ICI site transferred to NPL Estates and it is probably the largest unrecognized strategic site in the north west either through the regional spatial strategy or the Regional Economic Strategy.

  15.2  As a brownfield site in need of remediation due to its use as a chemical complex, it has a unique ability to accommodate chemicals investment in the northern part of the north west. Indeed, the chemical companies on the site are already committed to investing up to £45 million over the next three years. Companies are considering further phases of investment but will require recognition of the site at a regional level and an acceptance that packaged support measures will be available.


  16.1  Fleetwood is unlike many other coastal resorts in so far as its heritage is as much as a fishing town than as a resort. The impact of the changes in the tourism market and leisure expectations has however impacted on Fleetwood. Outward signs of this decline are in the town centre where the loss of visitor expenditure and competition from out of town facilities, poor road and rail access has led to a decline in the quality of the shopping "offer" and the lack of investment to plough back into the improvement of the physical infrastructure and environment.

  16.2  Fleetwood does attract visitors however, with attractors including large static caravan sites, Fleetwood Market, Fleetwood Museum etc A report produced on behalf of the NWDA—A New Vision for Coastal Resorts (2003) confirmed Fleetwood, despite changes in the tourism market, as still having power as a destination. As such it proposed that Fleetwood develop its brand as a "UK Capital of Value".

  16.3  The report concluded that to achieve the brand destination vision, including up- lifting the town centre, significant public sector-led investment was required in the public realm working in conjunction with private developers to implement the strategy.


  17.1  Fleetwood has derived its funding in a limited form from:

    —  Single Regeneration Budget.

    —  European Objective 2.

    —  European Support for the Fishing Industry.

  Fleetwood benefited from funding through the Single Regeneration Budget Round 3, between 1997 and 2004, of £3.1million. An evaluation of the scheme concluded that whilst the scheme successfully delivered its outputs and leveraged some £27 million in benefits to Fleetwood, in cash and in kind, the scheme was not of significant enough size to trigger associated private sector investments, outside the realm of community development. Since the completion of this scheme there has been no further access to sources of co-ordinated intervention

  17.2  Whilst Objective 2 monies have been directed towards Fleetwood, the specific schemes have all been developed in Pharos ward, and should properly be regarded as complementary activity, rather than structurally beneficial.

  17.3  Support ids available to the fishing industry through the Marine Fisheries Agency. Whilst some community benefit has been derived from this funding source, it does not provide the significant infrastructure investment to make a lasting impact.


  18.1  There is potential for growth in Fleetwood, so far as land and property are concerned. Some 11 hectares of land is available for redevelopment on the Copse Road industrial estate, mainly covered in run-down commercial buildings and factory units, which have seen better days. The Wyre Dock is suitable for mixed development, including residential, and adds a further 15.4 hectares, and other miscellaneous sites add a further 2.4 hectares (source Wyre Local Plan 2001016).

  18.2  The difficulty in advocating development in Fleetwood is the accessibility to the road and rail network. New and incoming businesses require good access if there is a need for goods to be moved from the point of manufacture to a purchaser destination, without undue delay and added cost. The lack of these basic infrastructure standards means that Fleetwood is not a recognized destination for business. Creating the route to business is a key activity, but one without a solution, unless there is recognition within the RES and the Regional Transport Policy. This has not been forthcoming, nor is there any prospect of this happening within current programmes.

  18.3  Another key factor, allied to the availability of land is brownfield site remediation, to restock Fleetwood with a cost-effective alternative for companies to consider against the stock of available land elsewhere. The RES considers only sites of regional strategic importance in the allocation of funding and remedial priority. This policy may be appropriate to large urban areas where employment opportunities have been wiped away, and there is a need to revitalize the potential for development and create new jobs.

  18.4  It is equally suited to addressing the problems of smaller areas however, where the long-term effects of worklessness and deprivation have become deep-rooted, and are now becoming ingrained in the socio-economic fabric of the community.

  18.5  Whilst there is no pressure placed on the availability of land in Fleetwood, the same is not true in other parts of the district. The two market towns of Poulton-le-Fylde and Garstang, where market town initiative work programmes are being undertaken, in association with the NWDA, are being put under pressure for additional land allocations for industrial/commercial development.

  18.6  These would most likely be green field sites, if they were available, rather than considering the possibility of locations in Fleetwood, where brownfield opportunities are plentiful. The ability to offer incentives to take up this type of land, linked to confirmed long-term use for commercial activity, would provide Wyre with a means of pump-priming new development.


  19.1  As part of the SRB programme, funding sources including european, delivered improvements to the main retail area, Lord Street, with the purpose of triggering private sector enhancement and providing the lead to sustainable development. A shop front improvement scheme was introduced to act as the catalyst in circumstances where major renewal could not be expected.

  19.2  The two elements achieved limited success, mainly due to the economic situation of owners and tenants. It was impossible to create further packages of support, from the limited funding available, although it was evidenced, from the number of enquiries made to the Regeneration Partnership, that a grants and loans scheme could have had a high rate of success in improving the overall retail "offer".

  19.3  Recent investment by Asda, in a town centre supermarket, may re-formulate retail viewpoints along the single-street high street, but this would require a massive step change. The Freeport Shopping Centre, at the edge of the town, the new Asda store and the Council's Traditional Market, make significant contributions to the retail economy. There are, perhaps six other stores that maintain and add to an economic dynamic for the town

  19.4  A recent survey of planning use of the main retail area shows that some 70% of properties are in A1 and A2 retail use, but that the quality of the businesses is generally poor, with over 80% committed to the sale of cut-price goods or "cheap and cheerful" tourist/visitor goods. There has been some speculation that without a step change being triggered in the retail offer, there will be no businesses surviving in middle to high-end retailing, in the next three to five years.

  19.5  In all other aspects, businesses are at survival levels.

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