The Central Lancashire mega-city that never was

Posted on - 13th February, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Leyland, Nostalgia, Preston Bus Station, Preston News
City stock image Pic: Pixabay
Pic: Pixabay

In 1946 Britain faced a huge housing crisis. New town development corporations were set up to acquire land and manage the construction of new towns. Notably, most of them surrounded London. However, one of the last was to be the Central Lancashire new town, designated in 1970.

Mega-city map Pic: Wikimedia
The mega-city that never was. This whole area was to be one massive city by 2000 Pic: Wikimedia

The proposal would have resulted in a city combining Preston with Chorley and Leyland. This monstrosity would have eaten up large tracts of green belt as well as local villages such as Haighton. The giant city was never named although some suggested Red Rose, readers may have their own names for it.

A storm of protest erupted and the plan was watered down and eventually abandoned by the Thatcher Government.

However, there were some positive outcomes, such as new houses, factories and roads. So what were the proposals?

Population growth overestimated

The Flag Market in 1965 Pic: Vintage Everyday
The Flag Market in 1965 Pic: Vintage Everyday

The birth rate in the early 1960s was rising, and there were growth projections of a further 18 million people by 2000. This caused the new town development corporations to be restarted. The new town corporations had been stood down after the first phase had been completed, in the 1950s. The population figures turned out to be wildly off the mark, with the actual growth being less than 7 million, between 1960 and 2000.

THE CLDC is formed

The central Lancashire new town had its origins in the County Council’s development plan of 1951.

By the mid 1960s the motorway network was growing and in 1965, the then minister of housing designated the Preston – Leyland – Chorley district as a new town.

The aforementioned minister of housing described Leyland as “a ghastly expanded village”.

Leyland in the 1960s Pic: Chorley Inns and Taverns
Leyland in the 1960s Pic: Chorley Inns and Taverns

Public opposition

A rising tide of opposition greeted the planners. Many local campaigns were started to fight the proposals. When, in 1971, a public enquiry was opened, protesters would barely fit in the main hall of the Guild Hall. Farmers complained of the compulsory purchase of land, while Manchester City Council thought the scheme to be “wildly extravagant”.

Nevertheless, The CLDC came into being in 1972 and its outline plan was published in 1974. By 1976 the Labour Government was having second thoughts and funding was redirected towards improving inner city areas. Finally, by 1981 social disaffection in the cities had led to rioting, and the Thatcher government wound up the CLDC in 1985.

Scene from the Brixton riots Pic: The Times
Scene from the Brixton riots in 1981. They led to a shift in focus, to urban regeneration and away from developing new towns Pic: The Times

Positive outcomes?

Preston Bus Station in 1971 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Bus Station in 1971, before the New Preston Crest Hotel was built Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Some commentators claim that the aim of the CLDC was more to provide economic and social development, rather than the building of a mega-city. Admittedly, over £200 million of central Government funds were invested in the area. However, the ultimate aim was to build a large urban conurbation “to combat economic decline in East Lancashire”.

Nevertheless there were some good outcomes. By the early 1980s 3,200 jobs had been created on CLDC developments and 237 new factories had been built. The population of the district did increase slightly from, 235,000 to 255,000, but hardly in the mega-city category.

Preston finally becomes a city

20 years ago, Preston did indeed become a city. Of the 42 towns proposed, Preston was one of only five selected. The award gave formal recognition of the regional importance of Preston and applauded its historical significance.

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