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Burnham For Mayor

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

New Year Message

This article first appeared in the Leigh Journal.

As we come to the end of 2014, we can reflect on a year of good progress for Leigh.

It began with the opening of the impressive new Hanover Centre at Leigh Infirmary.

That was followed by the long-awaited start of work on the redevelopment at the top of Plank Lane.

And, of course, we finally waved goodbye to ‘Kamikaze Island’.

But, when all's said and done, one thing will will define 2014: it will go down as the year that, for one night only, Elton was a Leyther!

When I was first elected in 2001, I had high ambitions for Leigh. But, in truth, even I might have struggled to foresee how Leigh could ever play host to a global superstar before a 17500 strong crowd.

But we did - and, more than that, Leigh pulled it off in style.

Shortly after the big night, someone told me how they had seen Elton perform in Las Vegas just a few weeks earlier. They laughed when the remaining dates of Elton’s tour flashed up on the big screen: LA ... New York ... Leigh ...!

That unforgettable June night was the moment when the Leigh Sports Village truly came into its own and placed Leigh firmly on the map.

But the truth is Elton was not the only performer to light up the LSV. Leigh Centurions blazed a trail through the 2014 season and graced the LSV stage with perhaps their most exciting team for 30 years.

A couple of years ago, I ran a campaign for the return of promotion and relegation and I am pleased that, once again, the door to Super League is open to us.

So, your MP asks you to make one simple New Year's Resolution - let’s all of us get down to the LSV in 2015 and cheer our exciting young team back to Super League.

One dark spot on the year was the surprise decision by Wigan & Leigh College to pull the plug on A Level provision. It left many young people in the lurch.

We are waiting for the College to publish the findings of a review. But, whatever it concludes, I am clear about this: Leigh students should not have to get up at the crack of dawn and travel miles to do A levels. We want good A Level provision in the heart of our town and that is what I will campaign for in 2015.

Another challenging issue this year was HS2.

Before the close of the consultation, I organised a series of public meetings in Lowton and Golborne. What came over clearly was the high level of opposition to the proposed depot off Slag Lane. People felt it would destroy our green space and shatter our peace.

I listened and concluded they were absolutely right. Ever since, I have thrown whatever political weight I could muster into the campaign against the depot. I am pleased to say it seems we have won the day: the latest statement from HS2 says they are now looking at alternative sites. I will keep up the pressure in 2015 until it is finally confirmed.

There is another reason why transport will be the big issue of next year - it will finally see the opening of the Leigh Guided Busway.

Now I know it's the under-statement of the year to say people remain to be convinced about the Busway. I know that the disruption has been horrendous - particularly in Tyldesley - and we will continue to work hard to minimise it.

But here's a confident, if somewhat dangerous prediction, for 2015 - I think the Busway will turn out to be better than people think.

I understand people's scepticism as the busway was never my preferred option. That would have been a rail station or, failing that, Metrolink. But the technical and financial obstacles to both are huge and the truth is this: Leigh can’t wait forever for better public transport. We need it now.

Now that it’s coming, I think we need to seize the opportunity it presents for Leigh.

One of the big plus points of the busway is that it will be much cheaper than rail. A weekly return pass to Manchester will be around £14 or £15. That compares well with the £28 cost of a rail pass from Atherton. That will open up opportunities for young people in Leigh who struggle to run a car. All concessionary passes will be valid and pensioners will be able to travel for free with their bus pass.

Given that, I have no doubt that the Busway will bring shoppers back into Leigh.

People think of it only taking people away from Leigh. But I think it will work the other way round: Leigh and Tyldesley town centres will end up being the big winners. That's because, for anyone living on the guided section of the route, they can be in Leigh or Tyldesley in a matter of minutes with no traffic or hassle.

So, to coincide with the opening of the Busway, I want to launch a big ‘Come Back to Leigh’ marketing campaign. As part of the scheme, new investment is going in to the Leigh Bus Station and into the town centre. This is big chance to turn around the fortunes of the town centre and I am determined to make the most of it.

I think it's time to see the potential of the Busway rather than the problems. Already, there are signs that it will continue the regeneration of the town. Plans to turn Mather Lane Mill into flats - on the back of the Busway - are an exciting example of the wider benefits it will bring.

So there are grounds to be optimistic for our town as we head in to 2015. I remain as passionate as ever about my mission to restore its fortunes and am always grateful for the brilliant support you continue to give me.

Here's to a successful and prosperous 2015.