BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable has hailed Burnley as a shining example to the rest of the country on a high-profile tour of the town's businesses.
He said the recession would not have happened if more towns were like Burnley as he met the area's top business leaders.
Dr Cable praised manufacturing firms, the Bondholders scheme and the town’s renewed business reputation during a visit yesterday.
He officially opened the £50million Burnley Bridge Business Park and said: “The town is now enjoying a real renaissance.”
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The 70-acre site, off junction nine of the M65, opened to much fanfare despite still not having any confirmed tenants.
Dr Cable said it gave him ‘great pleasure’ that Burnley had ‘rediscovered’ its engineering and manufacturing roots.
Speaking as he unveiled a plaque at the site’s Cobalt Building, he said: “I’ve been here four times in the four years I’ve been in this job and I’ve seen the journey that the town has made.
“When I first came here, it did not have a positive reputation, but last year it was regarded as the most enterprising town in Britain.
“Now, unemployment is well below the national average, and there are lots of really positive things happening, particularly in the rediscovery of the manufacturing industry.
“I remember the first time I came here and Gordon Birtwistle took me to the hill overlooking this site and said ‘If we can do something here, it can really unlock the potential of this area.’ “It’s great to be back four years later and seeing this actually happening.”
He added: “I’m sure other towns could learn from Burnley. It’s turned round a very bad reputation within five years through hard work, political support and good officers at the council who are totally committed to growth and regeneration.
“It shows what can be done. If every other part of Britain operated like Burnley we wouldn’t be talking about a recession.”
Dr Cable met with James Chapman, managing director of the site’s developer, Eshton Ltd, before heading to audio technology specialists AMS Neve for a tour of its Billington Road Industrial Estate workshop.
He got behind the mixing desk with AMS Neve’s managing director, Mark Crabtree, to get to grips with the equipment which has contributed to dozens of Oscar and Bafta-winning productions.
Dr Cable also visited aerospace firms Velocity Composites, in Billington Road, and Kaman, in Bancroft Road, as well as window specialists VEKA, one of Burnley's biggest employers and a Lancashire Telegraph business award winner.
At VEKA, in Farrington Road, he joined managing director Dave Jones in opening the firm’s new £5million mixing plant – the ‘most technically-advanced’ in the UK.
Dr Cable praised the German-owned company as ‘a real European success story’.
Burnley Council's Chief Executive Steve Rumbelow said Dr Cable’s visit was evidence that Burnley was a ‘shining example’ of economic recovery.
Mr Rumbelow said: “I think we’ve been building a reputation as a place that’s open for business, investable and it gets stuff done.
“We, in the last four years, have been positioning ourselves to make the best of difficult conditions and be ready to come out the other side of the recession with a bound in our step.
“Burnley’s been making an economic comeback.”
Regarding the lack of confirmed tenants at Burnley Bridge, Eshton Ltd’s Mike Dove said ‘a number of our prospective customers’ were in attendance at the opening.
He said: “The very latest, accurate agent news that I can give you is that occupiers are coming, and are in active negotiations for a number of buildings on the park.”
Dr Cable said he was ‘absolutely certain’ that the site would be occupied soon.
He said: “It is in the nature of a business park like this that it is a speculative development.
“What I’ve seen happening in Burnley over the four years I’ve been coming here is that people’s faith in new business has been vindicated.
“I want to come back here actually - I’m getting used to an annual visit - and seeing the site fill up as we go forward. We’ve got something really tangible - real progress that we can celebrate.”
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said he had spoken to representatives of two companies at the Burnley Bridge opening who were considering moving there.
He said: “They’ll fill this site in two years. It’s absolutely perfect. There’s no problem getting planning permission. It’s fantastic.
“Four years ago, as Vince said, we stopped on that hill and said it would be a fantastic industrial estate. All we needed was a bridge and we could convert this brownfield wreck. And we got it.”