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REGENERATION IS MAJOR CHALLENGE - BUT PROSPECTS ARE PROMISING

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Tackling unemployment and the skills shortage, as well as providing more community facilities, has resulted in some...
Tackling unemployment and the skills shortage, as well as providing more community facilities, has resulted in some real improvements for local people, says an independent Audit Commission report out today. However, much work remains to be done to create a thriving economy and reduce deprivation and social disadvantage in Lancaster and Morecambe.

A team of inspectors from the Audit Commission judged the council's regeneration activities to be of a fair, one-star standard with promising prospects for improvement.

Several projects have begun to improve the local environment and have helped maintain Morecambe as a 'place to go' on the tourism map, with 4.5 million visitors in 2003. Lancaster has seen the improvement of the riverside, culminating in the building of the Millennium Bridge and a range of schemes to improve community facilities and employment prospects for local people.

However, despite the council's efforts, businesses continue to face obstacles to their continued development, including a shortage of serviced commercial and industrial sites, and no major road link between the M6 and the port of Heysham. In addition, the council has tended to give priority to economic growth over addressing social deprivation.

Audit Commission relationship manager Mike Thomas said:

'The council can point to a number of successes in regeneration schemes in the past. It is now working to shape not only the economic future of the district but also the overall quality of life for residents in deprived areas. It is tackling the legacy of severe contamination on core economic redevelopment sites and romoting 'clusters' of businesses centred on IT. This and the resource constraints under which the council is working present it with a major challenge.'

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations including:

* Make sure long-term regeneration can be funded after the current time-limited funding runs out

* Balance the emphasis on economic improve ments with targeting deprivation and social disadvantage as part of the council's regeneration work

* Make sure council staff time is being used to best effect in the management of regeneration projects, and work more closely with external partners and agencies to ensure there is no duplication of effort

Regeneration is one of the council's three directorates, together with community services and corporate services. The regeneration directorate includes the arts, leisure, planning, property and building control services as well as the economic development and tourism service (EDTS). The council defines regeneration as:

* creating and supporting jobs and economic activity

* tackling areas of deprivation and exclusion

* regenerating and improving the physical environment

A press release from Lancaster City Council follows:

Lancaster City Council has broadly welcomed the findings of an independent Audit Commission review of its approach to regeneration.

The review found that the council is addressing economic development, winning EU and UK funding for a number of ambitious programmes to rehabilitate former industrial land for business and residential use and found that local companies praise the energy and helpfulness of its economic development service.

The report praises the council's progress in adopting a joined up approach to regeneration. The report identifies that there is still more that can be done to address the social and environmental aspects of regeneration as well as economic ones. The council is well on the way to tackling these issues, a view was endorsed by the inspection team in judging the council's prospects for improvement as 'promising'.

The leader of the council, Ian Barker, said: 'We welcome the constructive comments of the inspectors who have rightly recognised the skills and commitment of staff who are 'well regarded for their professional and constructive attitude'.

'The council will continue to build on the many strengths h ighlighted in this report'.

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