AN ambitious plan has been unveiled to create Lancashire’s first ‘Fab Lab’ - a creative and digital technology centre aimed at young entrepreneurs.

The hi-tech centre would be part of initiative to transform Blackburn’s Victorian quarter into a thriving tourist and business hub.

The project in the former Bentley’s pub on Exchange Street, near the historic Town Hall, has been described as ‘perfect’ for the town.

The grant has raised hopes National Lottery chiefs will award Blackburn with Darwen Council £1.5million to pay for its £3million initiative to preserve and enhance the historic Northgate and Blakey Moor area for the 22nd Century.

East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce boss Mike Damms said of the two projects: “This is fantastic, exactly what the town needs.”

The cash for the ‘Making Rooms Fab Lab’ from the Lancashire Growth Deal was announced this week and follows the borough planning committee granting permission for the scheme in the former bank turned pub opposite the Town Hall.

The scheme, set to open in the autumn, aims to provide cheap, fully-equipped space for budding entrepreneurs, creative artists and inventors to turn their ideas into products, profits and jobs.

The first such development in Lancashire, it will include cutting edge technology such as 3D printing and laser cutting machines for rent by students, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

A separate bid for £275,000 from the Arts Council has been submitted to enhance the project, which incorporates ‘Mad Lab’ and ‘Tech Hub’ concepts originally developed by the USA’s world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It follows the success of a similar ‘Fab Lab’ in Manchester which recently saw its first millionaire graduate in Piers Ridyard with his ‘Nifty Drive’ data storage device.

Eddie Kirkby, of the Manufacturing Institute, which founded the Ancoats complex in 2010, said: “It’s been a fantastic success here with more than 10,000 mainly young people coming through the doors in five years and turning their creativity into products and businesses.

“It’s perfect for Blackburn with its industrial heritage and growing young population.”

In the next two weeks the Heritage Lottery Fund will decide on the borough’s linked £1.5million bid for cash to boost the historic townscape of Northgate and Blakey Moor.

Complementing the £33million Cathedral Quarter development, it builds on the council’s existing 12-point plan which has already seen 14 empty properties brought back into in use.

They include 10 new shops open or about to open, and a dozen retail premises refurbished as well as the restoration of the Central Library to its 1930s glory.

If the HLF bid is successful, the borough then has to find another £1.5million of ‘match funding’ in the next year for the scheme to start in January 2016.

The ‘Townscape Heritage’ project will pay for major projects within the Northgate Conservation Area around the statue of Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone aimed at attracting businesses and visitors.

It will include restoration of the Blakey Moor shops opposite King Georges Hall and the refurbishment of public spaces and 20 historic properties spanning Northgate and Lower Northgate through grants to owners.

Borough regeneration boss Maureen Bateson said: “This is an exciting prospect for the Northgate Area and I think demonstrates our renewed commitment to the restoration of the town centre’s important heritage buildings such as the library and Town Hall.

“We would be aiming to attract new businesses which would support these key attractions.”

Mr Damms said: “This is a perfect mix for Blackburn bringing together its history of innovation, industry and manufacturing with its growing young population putting it at the forefront of modern creative and digital technology.”

Blackburn Chamber of Trade president Tony Duckworth said: “I am pleased these investment plans for a side of the town which been neglected are making real progress.”

Council Tory group leader Mike Lee said: “These are perfect development for Blackburn, a town with a great industrial and manufacturing heritage and a growing young, creative population.”

Liberal Democrat group leader David Foster: “I think these plans are a real boost for Blackburn’s histroic town centre and the borough as a whole.”