Huge plan for Nelson sets out 10-year future

The new £20m Nelson Long-Term Plan offers the first chance to engage with the community since the austerity era began over ten years ago, board members were told at the project’s first meeting.

Community engagement is essential for the new scheme, various speakers emphasised. And a Nelson Muslim leader said hunger, poverty, low income and a lack of hope must be tackled urgently.

The ten year Long-Term Plan is separate to the current Nelson Town Deal, which operates until 2026 with a different £25m government budget. In total, Nelson has £45m earmarked for spending through the two government deals.


The first scheme has focused on bigger projects, such as Nelson town centre buildings, land and business growth grants. The second may be more community focused around safety, public spaces and transport. But public consultation is needed.

Both projects require mixed town boards to run them, made-up of a range of people with just a few publicly-elected councillors. Pendle Council provides some staff and is the ‘accounting body’. The board is also placing work with outside paid consultants and board members includes business representatives.

Councillors on the new Nelson Long-Term Plan for Towns Board are Asjad Mahmood, Ash Sutcliffe and Zafar Ali. Other members include Pendle Conservative MP Andrew Stephenson plus business, education. health and voluntary group representatives.

Claire Bennett, of Positive Action in the Community, and businessman Saj Butt, of 3B Systems, were appointed chairperson and vice-chairperson at the first meeting.

Others include Christine Blythe of the CVS voluntary organisation, Rauf Bashir of Building Bridges and Imam Afaq Khan from Nelson Community Masjid. Also Mike Nuttall of Brookhouse Group, a property firm in the PenBrook joint venture for Nelson with Pendle Council. There is a space for another business person.


Speaking at the board’s first meeting, Rose Rouse, Pendle Council’s chief executive, said: “This is new money and I think we were really pleased that it seems to be more about people. I have long being saying this place needs investment in people. This is the nearest we have got in years to try to make a difference to people’s lives. ”

Christine Blythe said; “It’s really exciting for the community because we will pick up more information around issues on health and well-being, housing and jobs. And how we can enable local communities to get a hold on that.”

Pendle Council economic officer Iftikhar Bokhari said some activity may review previous work in the community, such as around the sense of place. He added: “We don’t want to lose sight of fantastic work done. This new project might allow us to contact hard-to-reach parts of the community who we have not touched for a long time. To have meaningful engagement about the town centre.

“We had the capacity to engage with the community [in the past] but then came the cuts. Even though there has been a gap of a decade, we can build. Since the last HMR [Housing Market Renewal] programme there’s been a massive gap.”

Housing Market Renewal programmes were former Labour government regeneration schemes in the early 2000s. They were ended in 2011 under the Conservative Lib-Dem government.


Regarding the new Long-Term Plan, Rauf Bashir said: “There’s finances for community engagement. Money for consultants. The original Nelson Town Deal was announced around the Covid pandemic, so things did not go to plan. There’s a feeling of there being a closed shop. The community has to be consulted. I think this [new scheme] is an opportunity to do something different and get engagement. To tackle negative sentiments.

“I think we need to spread the finance for the community. Can we think about values and principles, such as allowing match-funding? And perhaps set-up a board for new, emerging community organisations, so there is a sustaining link and a chance for mentors? Also the ‘This Is Nelson’ programme is already happening. So we need to think about spreading the good things that are already being done.”

Nelson religious leader Iman Afaq Khan said: “Hundreds of families are struggling day-to-day. Some parents or children don’t have enough to eat and go to bed hungry. Somehow, we have got to deal with this. There is depression, anxiety, stress and low aspirations. People are worried about the bills.

“We need to give people skills and hope that they can get out of this situation. The only way out is to raise income coming into homes and the whole area. We need incubators for new businesses. Opportunities to work with aspirational people. Or the area will remain at the bottom of lists. We need to do something urgently.”


Mike Nuttall of Brookhouse Group asked: “How do we work together with the existing Nelson Town Board while keeping separate? We don’t want waste or duplication.”

Chairwoman Claire Bennett said: “We’ll have to map what has been achieved and dovetail to that.”

Conservative Coun Ash Sutcliffe said government levelling-up funding for transport and better connections was earmarked for the area by Lancashire County Council. And some years ago, Nelson was the focus of a report linked to the retail guru Mary Portas and £1m was invested.

But he asked: “Is that high street report still relevant? I would like a mini-audit to see what needs doing, so we don’t duplicate.”

Phillp Spurr, Pendle Council’s director of place, noted the points raised. He said: “Community engagement is fundamental. The Ekosgen consultancy will be working hard on that. Government guidance talks about working with other organisations.”

Regarding social or economic concerns, he added: “Overall, we are fortunate to have £45m. But we have got that partly because we are struggling.”

Rose Rouse said the first Nelson Town Board would be winding-down in 2026 so 2025 would be a key overlapping year for both boards. If there was currently good community work, such as in parks, then it might be supported in the long-term plan.