Burnley’s High Street Heritage Action Zone Celebrates Success

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham joined council representatives, local people and Historic England to celebrate the success of the town’s High Street Heritage Action Zone, centred on Lower St James’s Street.

Set up in 2020 by Burnley Council, Historic EnglandLancashire County Council and the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership, the programme has delivered £2.6 million of funding to revitalise the town’s core which has been enhanced by a programme of restoration to landmark Victorian buildings and other initiatives.

Seven properties in Burnley’s historic high street have been restored externally, with two being converted into cultural venues. Five properties have been brought back into use.

In total, 507 square metres of new commercial floor space, about the size of two tennis courts, has been created through new build and conversion of existing properties, while 340 square metres of vacant or underused commercial floor space has been brought back into use.

Work on 3,720 square metres of public space, about half the size of a football pitch, has been delivered with through the provision of wider pavements, planters, lighting, seating areas and artwork.

Creative Spaces Burnley will take over the historic Empire Buildings at 123-125 St James’s Street by early April, aiming to transform Burnley’s culture and creative scene which is already attracting artists and makers from nearby towns. The building will offer private studios, collaborative workspaces, meeting rooms, hot desking and exhibition space.

Further work has been carried out to stablise Burnley’s Empire Theatre including the removal of asbestos, allowing the theatre to progress with work to make the building a safe place to work and visit.

Local people were involved through community events including a music festival, on street arts and crafts, bag printing workshops, memory workshops and heritage trails.

More than 150 people took the opportunity to participate in heritage skills training workshops and Burnley Council have reported that the improvements and investment in the town’s historic character have led to an increase in monthly footfall on the high street by over a third from 2021 to 2023. Local businesses have also backed the town’s transformation, with £260,000 of private sector investment coming into the centre.

The legacy of the programme will include two creative spaces for makers, boosting the attraction of the area for creative businesses. The vacancy rate of units in the high street has also reduced as investment has been secured and the perception of the area has improved. The local cultural consortium plans to continue delivering events.

Mr Higginbotham said: “It’s looking much better down Lower St James Street these days! Even in the rain. We all remember how far this area was left to fall behind in previous years. But all that’s changing.
“Thanks to co-operation and investment by the Government, council, Historic England and others real progress has been made to improve this part of the town centre, providing further evidence that we are now getting the focus we need from public bodies and government for improvements into our area.”

Councillor Scott Cunliffe, Burnley Council’s executive member for sustainability and growth, said: “The transformation of lower St James’s Street has had a massive positive impact on that part of Burnley town centre, and there’s still more to come.
“The investment in its future has made the area far more attractive and, as a result, far busier than it was. It’s been great to see all the work to improve the buildings, public areas and the town’s creative industries.”

Julie Griffiths, Historic England’s Team Leader Partnerships in the North West, said: “We’re so proud to see Burnley’s fantastic heritage being harnessed and enhanced to pull people and businesses back to their high street. The success of the programme here is testament to the hard work and dedication of local people and the council who’ve seized this opportunity with both hands.”

James Street,Burnley_1/3/24_©Andy Ford Pictures