SENIOR councillors will on Thursday be asked to approve 'an ambitious programme' of nine projects worth £20.3million across Blackburn with Darwen borough.

The authority's executive board has been recommended to authorise the spending of the cash from the government's Levelling Up fund.

Growth boss Cllr Quesir Mahmood has described the programme as key to the council's 'exciting vision for the future'.

In a report to Thursday's meeting, he says: "This updates the progress of the Levelling Up Partnership (LUP), a new government initiative announced in March 2023.

"Blackburn with Darwen is one of 25 places that secured LUP status.

"Blackburn with Darwen was identified as one of the first places in England to benefit.

"During October to December 2023, council officers and government officials worked intensively on developing a joint investment plan successfully securing a LUP funding package of £20.3M.

"Our LUP package recognises the economic importance of new investment in key cultural assets and to address development constraints in Blackburn Town centre."

Its priorities are: * King George’s Hall - £8m of capital investment in a comprehensive upgrade programme to improve accessibility, generate additional income, improve the evening economy and widen opportunities for Blackburn as a regional centre for creative arts; *Tony’s Empress Ballroom - £1.5m of capital investment to make it accessible and support its re-opening; * The Cotton Exchange - £1.5m of capital investment to Resource CIC to undertake works to this iconic and historic town centre building enabling them to widen activities and open to more visitors; * Imperial Mill - £1m of capital funding to accelerate works on this iconic canalside mill with the longer-term aim of developing the site for employment and as a base for creative industries; * Blackburn Town Centre Acquisition and Conversion programme - £3.5m of capital funding to bring forward key buildings, including Bridge House, to deliver new business and cultural spaces; * Neighbourhood and Corporation Park Investment Programme - £1m of capital funding to upgrade two multi-use games areas in Little Harwood and Bastwell with a wider investment programme for Corporation Park; * The AMRC Low-Carbon Business Accelerator - £2m of capital funding for the expansion of the new additive manufacturing accelerator in Darwen with 5,000 square feet of innovation space and required specialist technical equipment to improve employment opportunities with higher wage levels; * The Cyber Skills Programme - £1.5m of capital funding to enable Blackburn College to create a digital and cyber delivery space with high-specification facilities; and * The Hive Business Network - £300,000 of revenue funding to help refocus our local business networks to deliver high-quality business events and engagement activity.

Cllr Mahmood's report says: "The LUP opportunity is timely as we start to deliver our ambitious and exciting vision for the future of the borough.

"Whilst this does represent an ambitious programme, there will be a need to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to deliver the projects within the timescales set out.

"Preparations are already under way to ensure project delivery plans are ready to commence as soon as the LUP funding package is finalised with government."