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The Central Lancashire megacity that never was

Photo: Pixabay

In 1946, Britain faced a huge housing crisis. New Town Development Corporations were established 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 new town in Central Lancashire, designated in 1970.














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Map of the mega city Pic: Wikimedia
The megalopolis that never existed. This whole area was to be a 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 vast swathes of greenbelt as well as local villages such as Haighton. The giant city has never been named although some have suggested Red Rose, readers may have their own names for it.

A storm of protests erupted and the plan was watered down and eventually abandoned by the Thatcher government.

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

Overestimated population growth

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

The birth rate in the early 1960s was rising, and there were projections of a growth of 18 million more people by 2000. This prompted the restarting of development companies in the new town. The new municipal corporations had been abolished after the completion of the first phase, in the 1950s. The population figures turned out to be very far from reality, the actual growth being less than 7 million, between 1960 and 2000.

The CLDC is formed

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

By the mid-1960s the motorway network was expanding and in 1965 the then Housing Minister designated the district of Preston – Leyland – Chorley as a new town.

The aforementioned Housing Minister described Leyland as “a horrifically enlarged 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 have been launched to fight the proposals. When, in 1971, a public inquiry was opened, protesters were barely holding out in the main hall of Guild Hall. Farmers complained about the compulsory purchase of land, while Manchester City Council said the scheme was “extremely extravagant”.

Nevertheless, the CLDC came into existence in 1972 and its master plan was published in 1974. By 1976 the Labor government was having second thoughts and funding was redirected to improving inner city areas. Finally, in 1981, social disaffection in the cities had led to riots and the Thatcher government disbanded the CLDC in 1985.

Scene of the Brixton Riots Pic: The Times
Scene of the Brixton Riots in 1981. They led to policy change, urban regeneration and the move away from the development of new towns Pic: The Times

Positive results?

Preston Bus Station in 1971 Photo: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Bus Station in 1971, before the construction of the New Preston Crest Hotel Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Some commentators claim that the aim of the CLDC was more to ensure economic and social development than to build a megacity. Certainly over £200m of central government funds have been invested in the region. However, the ultimate aim was to build a large urban agglomeration “to combat economic decline in East Lancashire”.

Nevertheless, there have been good results. By the early 1980s, 3,200 jobs had been created on CLDC developments and 237 new factories had been built. The district’s population increased slightly from 235,000 to 255,000, but barely in the megacity category.

Preston is finally becoming a city

Twenty years ago, Preston did indeed become a city. Of the 42 cities nominated, Preston was one of only five selected. The award gave formal recognition of Preston’s regional significance and applauded its historical significance.

Read more: See the latest news and headlines from Preston