Councillors are set to approve the first phase of the redevelopment of Blackburn's landmark Imperial Mill as a job-creating base for creative industries.

Blackburn with Darwen Council's planning committee is next week recommended to grant permission for the demolition of structurally unsafe elements at the imposing 123-year-old canalside building.

The move follows Thursday night's meeting of the authority's executive board giving the go-ahead for nine projects, including the mill redevelopment.

This came despite warnings from Conservative group leader Councillor John Slater it could suffer the same fate as abortive proposals to relocate Morrisons to a new store on the Thwaites brewery site in Blackburn town centre.

The meeting approved spending £750,000 for the preliminary work, to build a modern purpose-built training hub with around 87,000 square feet of space for up to 2,800 students in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and its Blackburn-based subsidiary Training 2000.

It will be a key part of the council's proposed new proposed £60 million Skills and Education Campus.

The executive board also approved a £20.3m programme of eight more projects paid for with government 'Levelling Up' grants across the borough.

The projects are:

  • an £8m upgrade for King George’s Hall,
  • £1.5m to reopen Tony’s Empress Ballroom,
  • £1.5m towards the redevelopment of The Cotton Exchange,
  • £1m towards the Imperial Mill project,
  • £3.5m for the Blackburn Town Centre Acquisition and Conversion programme,
  • £1m for a Neighbourhood and Corporation Park Investment Programme,
  • £2m for Darwen's AMRC Low-Carbon Business Accelerator,
  • £1.5m for a Cyber Skills Programme at Blackburn College,
  • £300,000 to refocus the borough's Hive Business Network.

The report to Thursday's planning committee says: "The proposed developments are in relation to a programme of works regarding the demolition of structurally unsafe elements of Imperial Mill.

"Such demolition is necessary to remove those elements which pose a serious risk to health and safety, in particular, the boiler house, engine room extension, masonry annex and steel structure.

"Members are advised the works are the first element of a programme of regeneration which will restore the important listed Imperial Mill building, which is an important building to the borough, due to its prominence along the Blackburn townscape adjacent to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and the ongoing regeneration along Carl Fogarty Way to the south."

Cllr Slater questioned borough growth boss Cllr Quesir Mahmood about whether the recent announcement of 165 job losses by UCLAN over finance concerns jeopardised the new Blackburn project, and warned over the wider range of schemes.

He asked: "I am concerned we may see a repeat of what happened with Morrisons pulling out of the new store on the brewery site."

Cllr Mahmood said he had been assured by UCLan that the new training hub was unaffected.

He added: "These are great projects and a really positive story for the borough."