How we helped a place shrink to grow


Capita and Blackburn with Darwen Council had been working together for 15 years when they embarked on a new style of partnership – the first of its kind in the North of England.

This new ‘place-based partnership’, formed in 2016, is designed to create new opportunities around the development of land, local assets and skills to generate income and transform Blackburn with Darwen.

The challenge

Already a high-performing, innovative council, Blackburn with Darwen wanted to ensure it was ready for the inevitable challenges, and opportunities, of the future – with austerity cuts, increasing social and healthcare demands, as well as devolution all on the horizon.

Like all local authorities, Blackburn has been hit hard by cuts to public sector spending, over £60m since 2010, with an estimated further loss of £48m in the next three years. And – despite one of the youngest populations in the country, great transport links and a strong manufacturing sector – the area has additional challenges of deprivation, low employment and low skills base, ultimately leading to a low wage economy and low land values. This means the Council has to work extra hard to attract investors and developers to boost its income and, in turn, limit the effect of funding cuts on the services it provides.

A local plan was agreed in 2015, with a development pipeline of around 160 sites. But Blackburn knew it needed to come up with new ways of thinking and efficiencies to deliver this plan – making savings, while growing the tax base (through council tax and national non domestic rates (NNDR)).

The Council chose to renew and refocus its partnership with Capita, so it could draw on our mix of skills – technical, marketing, transformational and commercial – and our flexibility to meet changing needs, now and in the future. 

Our approach

This new place-based partnership is all about promoting growth and being developer-friendly. It works on an insourcing model and, through innovative shared management arrangements, we’ve created an integrated Capita-Council growth team which together is:

  • Attracting developers to build new homes, which will not only boost the local economy, but help the Council increase the amount of funding it receives from the New Homes Bonus grant.
  • Working to attract new organisations into the area to increase the amount of business rates revenue and support sustainable economic growth and prosperity.
  • Offering developers the option of a premium planning service for an additional charge – providing support throughout the process, provided by a senior planner, making it easier and faster for the investor and speeding up the Council’s planning response time.
  • Working with strategic partners across the UK who will promote the strengths of our partnership and bring more business to Blackburn and Darwen.
  • Supporting the growth of jobs, providing new apprenticeships and delivering training opportunities for people in the borough.
  • Delivering a range of local property and highway services for residents, from maintaining roads to designing and delivering major schemes in the area.
  • Building a better transport infrastructure to improve accessibility in and around Blackburn with Darwen to increase footfall in the town centre. 
  • Rail improvements through dual track between Blackburn and Manchester.
  • Reinforcing Blackburn and Darwen’s role in the Northern Powerhouse, the government’s plan to transform the North.
  • Working and responding flexibly to the needs of the Council, the borough and the wider region. 
  • Working together to develop and improve relationships with partners, local authorities and industry sectors to bring further work opportunities, skills and investment to Blackburn and Darwen. 

The impact

Blackburn with Darwen

  • Is expected to deliver 460 new houses on site with planning permission for 1,200 and plots selling off-plan.
  • Is seeing investment from growing companies such as EuroGarages, Chubb and Accrol; investment in the town centre from a range of organisations, a new leisure centre jointly developed by the Council, and Blackburn College has released a town centre site for Council-led development. Also, working with Capita, Blackburn has secured an independent cinema operator on a long-term basis, which intends to premier Bollywood films.
  • Has a new bus station, designed by Capita, as well as the Cathedral Quarter development of Grade A offices, a new hotel, restaurants and the first residential accommodation in a cathedral in around 500 years. The Council was able to put its own money in to this development alongside other funding sources (LEP, HCA, ERDF) and took the head lease on the office block.
  • Replaced the existing inefficient street lanterns with advanced energy efficient LED lighting, which not only improves visibility on the roads but, effectively, is paying for itself through the energy savings made. This project saw our Blackburn partnership nominated for Best Service Team at the APSE Service Awards 2017.
  • Was named overall champion and winner of the local centre category in the Great British High Street Awards 2016.

As development has progressed, investors can clearly see the potential in the area with more and more buildings being acquired by investors, as well as restaurants and hotels.

“Recognising the new focus on place, our strategic partnership with Capita is getting us ready to compete nationally, showcase place-based innovation and bring growth and prosperity to directly benefit our residents and the wider region.”

Harry Catherall, Chief Executive of Blackburn with Darwen Council