Gordon has called for a renewed emphasis on new ways of promoting a “Cleaner, Greener Blackpool” at a St Georges Day event with presentations designed to showcase existing activities and progress across the town.
In a wide-ranging speech to around 70 people attending the morning event at the Solaris Centre (which was saved from demolition and restored as a centre for environmental sustainability in the 1990s, after a campaign in which Gordon and other local residents and businesses took part) the MP:
• Praised the work of Blackpool Council in driving forward the affordable housing projects on brownfield land on Rigby Road and off Central Drive.
• Stressed the crucial role of small businesses in reviving not just the town centre but outlying areas in South Shore, including Bond St/Waterloo Rd, and the initiatives he has backed including Small Business Saturday and the recent Enterprise Week.
• Called on the Government to give localism “more teeth” and give neighbourhood groups more say to work with their councils given the prospect of major devolution and stop using Whitehall to block local community decisions over issues such as fracking.
• Backed the continuing campaign to reduce VAT to 5 per cent on repairs and renewal for brownfield housing and businesses as well as listed and historic buildings to kick start skills, jobs and economic renewal.
• Called for a major initiative to improve rail access on the South Fylde Line with a passing loop, to relieve road congestion between South Shore and the Fylde and promote joining up rural and coastal tourism and promote eco-friendly local businesses across the area , benefitting both local residents and increasing visitor numbers and spend.
• Called for the new Squires Gate Lane Enterprise Zone as a hub to promote the potential for renewable energy initiatives such as wind, tide, solar and biomass in tandem with supporting and looking to expand the existing airport activity out to Liverpool Bay as well as possible new passenger routes.
• Emphasised the need for local planning officers to go the extra mile and engage with the local community at early stages not just developers, with sustainability, good design and environmental gain being seen as priorities.
• Called for Councils and Government to consider the potential for 'green investment bonds' raising money for projects and benefitting local investors as widely used in Scandinavia and elsewhere and currently being piloted in Swindon for solar energy.
The audience made up of small businesses owners, community groups and volunteers, council officers and others heard Gordon say that these ideas built on and were in pursuit of pledges he made before his re-election last year - “to make Blackpool’s regeneration and renewal a continuing focus of my work as your MP, and to make protecting Blackpool's green spaces, quality of life and decent homes to live in a priority in my work”.
He said: “Government could do so much more to make life easier for us in Blackpool in taking these things forward. Charging 20 per cent VAT to repair or renew a hotel or B and B or to bring back a worthwhile old building back into community use while changing no VAT on luxury houses that cost millions unlike the homes that 98 per cent of people in Blackpool inhabit is a cockeyed unsustainable model.”
“I also believe that if the Government wants to be taken seriously on localism, they have to stop trying to micromanage decisions in local communities. That’s why their new Housing Bill has already been challenged and votes carried in the House of Lords to give local plans, not Whitehall diktats, the prime consideration in decision making. Ministers should accept this and move away from a situation where developers are allowed to reduce or evade compensation for not providing affordable housing.
Among the other presentations at the event, participants heard a passionate defence of local environmental priorities by local ward councillor Alistair Humphries and of the value of council-local community cooperation by Gary Penninigton, Chair of the Friends of Highfield Road Park, who outlined their progress and events, including a specially crafted 'pop up' event in the Park using green materials a week on Saturday (12 noon and 2pm May 7th).“We saw this in the huge controversy about the housing development on Marton Moss , which I and hundreds of residents fought long and hard against where £22 million originally agreed was whittled down to £5 million, depriving the council and the people of Blackpool of valuable funding for affordable housing in more sustainable areas.”
There were also presentations about the new green initiatives being carried out locally with the community from Rachael Hesketh of Groundworks and the new initiatives using Lottery money at Marton Mere Nature Reserve from Annie Heslop. Blackpool Council’s Director of Community and Environmental Services, John Blackledge, also took part with Gordon in a question and answer session from the floor.
Gordon said afterwards: “It was great to have so much positive commitment and to survey some of the superb work being done by for example the Civic Trust’s War Memorials Survey and the continued developments at the Arboretum, the example shown by young people in projects in our Schools, from grey water initiatives in schools like Devonshire to the great fruit and veg garden developed at St Nicholas School which I’ve visited and, which along with Watson Road Park and others deservedly won prizes at this year’s Civic Trust Awards.
“I'm glad too that it highlighted the positive effect which council officers working with the community can have such as Geoff Reeves of Get Started with small businesses and John Blackledge in all the work he has done over the years on sports and Stanley Park facilities as well as with the smaller parks and allotments.
“It shows that despite the heavy cuts and austerity that Blackpool has had to bear there is still a wealth of ingenuity and enthusiasm in the community, now augmented by new groups like Left Coast and Groundworks working locally to take this green agenda forward. I hope this event and initiative will help boost even further the exchange of ideas and new ways of seeing and doing things across Blackpool and the Fylde which I will continue to support and advocate.”