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SHOULD THERE BE AN ELECTED regional government for the North West?

CLOCK TOWERS ACROSS THE NORTH WEST are counting down the days and hours till the referendum in late 2004. Recently built shopping centres in Blackburn and Wigan (1 and 2) with modern style clock towers, are evidence of economic development, though in general standard of living, the North West lags far behind the South East.

The currently disused Barnes convalescent hospital in Cheadle (6) reminds us that over a century and a half after the Industrial Revolution took place, general levels of health and life expectancy in the North West are still worse than in the south of England. Clock towers 3 and 5 belong to Rochdale and Manchester town halls.

It's interesting to note that all but a handful of the 46 local authorities in the north west are in favour of elected regional government. Clock tower 4 is the Liver Building, most famous symbol of Liverpool, which could be the base for some of the functions of the new regional government.

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LANCASTER CASTLE dominates the historic county town of Lancashire. The present administrative county of Lancashire, website ( dating from 1974, is a much smaller entity than the original Lancashire which stretches from the Lakes to the Mersey.

Objectors to regional government say that Lancashire and Cheshire would be split into a number of new local government units and so disappear. But the decision on new arrangements for the counties will be decided by the electors at the time of the referendum and they will almost certainly continue in modified form.

In any case, the present administrative counties are not the same as the ancient counties in their original boundaries, which in my opinion should be reinstated for cultural, historic and tourism purposes.

THE ERIC MORECAMBE statue is one of the most popular attractions on the promenade of the seaside resort after which the celebrated comedian named himself. The North West has produced more than its fair share of entertainers, such as George Formby, Ken Dodd, Jimmy Tarbuck, Victoria Wood, Steve Coogan, Johnny Vegas and Peter Kay to name just a few.

But northern funny men have sometimes turned the joke on their own home ground. With his ruthless though hilarious jibes against Morecambe, one of the 'Comedians' in the Granada tv show of the same name, probably made a significant contributing to the decline of the town. The fiasco of Noel Edmonds' Mr Blobby theme park has also been unhelpful.

With new developments including the renovation of the seafront art deco hotel (visible in the photos at the end of the promenade), things are now looking better. Could a North West government, steered by dedicated and experienced professionals who know the region well, help to bring new prosperity to places like Morecambe?

BLACKBURN is the biggest of the east Lancashire towns, now linked by the M65 motorway. Others include Darwen, Burnley, Colne, Accrington and Nelson.

The former cotton towns of Lancashire were once the engine of prosperity for the whole of the UK. With the collapse of traditional industries, this area, like the rest of the North West has experienced economic decline. The town of Burnley has been the subject of media reports about racial tension, a by-product of economic difficulties and scarcity of resources.

A new regional government located close to the area might help to raise living standards for everyone and make tension between people of different communities a thing of the past.

COLNE is the easternmost of east Lancashire towns. It looks almost French with its hilltop town hall, surrounded by rows of houses. From the European perspective, there is another advantage to an elected North West regional government. The administration of the EU is very much geared towards regions.

Like it or loathe it, we are in the EU, and to gain the most benefit from EU funds, our region needs a strong voice in Europe. Other countries, even traditionally centralised ones, like France and Spain, have embraced the concept of regional assemblies.

Germany (the Federal Republic) has had regional government since it was founded in 1949. If our region is to be able to compete with the Aquitaines, the Bavarias and the Catalonias of this continent, we too need an elected regional government.

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