Is the population of Longridge about to be doubled in size?
PUBLISHED: 08:35 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 15:44 17 April 2016
The green fields around this Ribble Valley town are proving to be a magnet to developers. Martin Pilkington looks at what makes it so attractive
Longridge has evolved over the centuries from a tiny agricultural settlement to a village where stone was quarried and cotton woven, and now it is an attractive country town of about 7500 souls. So attractive, in fact, that developers are queuing up to build there, which paradoxically could threaten that very attractiveness.
Mayor of Longridge Chris Parkinson captures its character: ‘Longridge has a village feel about it - many long-time residents still call it a village. It’s very “old Lancashire” - people are friendly and supportive. We have a proper old cinema, lots of independent retailers. it’s kept a small community feel with the pubs and social clubs, and in the way people interact with each other.’
Can that feeling be retained? ‘Currently there are about 3,000 households here, but if all the developments applied for are approved – over 1,000 houses in Longridge, plus 503 on the Preston side a stone’s throw from the town centre – that’s potentially a 50pc increase,’ says local councillor Ken Hind.
‘Part of our problem is that the Sunday Times decided Longridge was one of the 100 best places in the country to live! We have good schools, low crime, reasonably good road links. It’s a very pleasant, prosperous place and, surrounded by green fields, it’s very attractive for developers.’
Ken Hind’s colleague Rupert Swarbrick adds: ‘The town has developed over the years with new areas in the 1950s and 60s for example, but what we’re talking about here is all this happening in the next 10 years. That’s a shock. You can’t manage shock.’
The two councillors stress they’re not anti-development, but say the 603 new homes in the council’s own plans include many flats for first time buyers and bungalows for older residents, meeting local needs, whereas the developers lean heavily towards executive homes for new commuters.
Chair of the Longridge Business Group Carole Hart has mixed feelings. ‘I was born here when it was a village, now it’s a town – things change. It is going to increase local business, and will be good for local businesses in many ways, but they have to get the infrastructure right, otherwise it will create chaos on the roads and with parking.’
Rupert Swarbrick concludes: ‘Building between Preston, Grimsargh and Longridge means the fields are disappearing. The character of communities like Longridge could change dramatically.’
Silicon Valley to Ribble Valley
But along with the old Longridge does embrace the new. A recent arrival is internet ticketing and events company Skiddle, which has brought a little Silicon Valley to the Ribble Valley. From their offices in what was once a farm then a gym, the 26 staff handle events as diverse as the BDO darts, Red Rose Awards, and Wickerman Festival: ‘I used to drive past this place on the way to Preston trying to beat the traffic, saw it was for sale and we bought it – people like visiting us here, and as a website it doesn’t matter where we are – though it helps we’re still 10 minutes from the motorway,’ says co-founder Richard Dyer.
Longridge’s most historic landmark is Club Row, the first houses in the world financed by a building society. The town’s Heritage Centre, recently granted charitable status, celebrates that history, including the rail service from the former station it occupies. The line was built to ship stone to once distant Preston. Now that city is creeping closer.
Rock of ages
There is still one small quarry operating in the district, but the real legacy of the industry’s 19th century heyday lies in Lancashire’s architectural riches. Longridge sandstone was used for The Harris Museum in Preston, the docks at Fleetwood, Liverpool and Preston, Blackpool promenade, Bolton Parish Church, the Church of St John the Devine in Preston, the town halls at Blackpool, Lancaster and Preston town halls and countless railway bridges and arches across the county
The Sunday Times listing said Longridge was ‘big in character’ and added that it had a ‘recently refurbished library, the Palace cinema, a good range of shops, a weekly market, a monthly farmers’ market, nine pubs and a range of restaurants which all boost the healthy community spirit.’
One of the county’s most experienced estate agents, Ian Lloyd, of Mortimers and Fine & Country, said: ‘The key to Longridge is that it’s in the Ribble Valley, which is the jewel in the crown of east Lancashire. It’s also close to Preston and the motorway network so that makes it a popular location for developers. After six years on uncertain times when people have put their lives on hold, the signs are now very positive.’