Could Chorley become a base for commuting students?
Opposition councillors in Chorley want to bring a sixth form college to the borough - as well as more accommodation for university-goers studying elsewhere in the North West.
The proposals were put forward as the Conservative and ruling Labour groups each laid out competing visions for the district at a meeting of the full council.
Council leader Alistair Bradley said his party’s plan was designed to enable the borough to be “nimble and agile” and avoid “sleepwalking into a period of lost years caused by Brexit, when we should have been doing [other] things”.
“Those things are carrying on in Chorley and we are seeing more delivery this year than in any other of the ideas that this administration put in place six years ago, “ Cllr Bradley said.
The Labour group trumpeted the on-going Market Walk extension, development of the Primrose Gardens retirement village and plans to create council-owned social housing as examples of its success.
But it was the Tory opposition’s suggestions for students which sparked the liveliest debate.
Deputy Conservative group leader Martin Boardman said Chorley was “perfectly placed to serve some of the larger universities in cities adjacent to us - like Manchester, Salford and Lancaster”.
He added: “Bringing students into the town centre would bolster our evening economy and retail.”
But one Labour member had bad memories of his own student commute into Manchester.
“It’s just wasn’t reliable - I would have paid more if I got have got there on time,” Christopher France said. “And it’s not going to happen without rail subsidies [for students] - we will be outpriced,” he added.
Meanwhile, Tory group leader Alan Cullens said plans to attract digital businesses to Chorley - via a specialist office park due to open next year - provided a ready-made opportunity for the borough’s young people.
“We’re not proposing another Runshaw College - instead, let’s look at developing some specialist sixth form qualifications, potentially linked to universities, which can provide a seamless route from school to the higher-paid jobs that we want to bring to this borough, Cllr Cullens said.
But Cllr Bradley said sixth form education was something which needed to be planned across the county - not district-by-district.
“We’ve got to look at some proper joint working, so that we don’t have 20 colleges across Lancashire - but half a dozen excellent ones with proper transport links. It needs some vision,” he said.
The Labour group’s corporate strategy for the next twelve months was formally adopted by the council, with the Conservative's ideas defeated.