Preston’s business leaders last night discussed options and potential development plans for restructuring the city after the collapse of the Tithebarn project.
As part of a week of listening to the public and local businesses alike, the Your City, Your Say event held at the Holiday Inn gave businesses a chance to speak to council leader Peter Rankin and chief executive Lorraine Norris.
In a discussion chaired by Dave Guest of North West Tonight, Lorraine Norris cited current lack of funds as the main obstacle to reinvigorating the city centre.
“The real problem is getting someone to carry out the works. The city council doesn’t have the funds, and we’ve found no commercial developers who are prepared to get involved.
“What we’re searching for is the means – the means are not in the public sector, they’re in the private sector.”
Prominent topics discussed included bus station redevelopment, cosmetic versus wholesale change of the city centre, transport, street safety and the creation of a city centre cinema alongside a cultural quarter. Norris also cited key recommendations from Portas report as important to bear in mind. Many agreed that Preston’s high street suffers from early closing times.
Ken Williams, manager of St George’s Shopping Centre, said: “I’m not against the idea of shops closing later, but Preston has an old-fashioned high street at the moment.
“The city centre is deserted between shops closing and clubs opening, and the only way you can change that is by more people living in the city centre.
“Thinking that you can open the shops until 7 or 8 at night and have ready made demand is ridiculous.”
Norris also said that she was “convinced” by the value of the arts to Preston’s economy.
Ruth Heritage, director of They Eat Culture, said she was would like to see Preston become a tourist industry by seeing a diversity of investment in the city.
“It comes down to us putting all our eggs in one basket. Preston council shouldn’t plough all their money into the Harris.
“Preston needs a thriving independent sector across arts, culture, entertainment and retail, and shouldn’t just focus on chain stores, pubs, cinemas, or the Harris and UCLan.
“That Preston could start developing itself as a tourist destination, strong regional and national transport links building on the Guild.
“I’d like to see the arts driving tourism in the city centre and creating a cultural quarter.”
Despite interest from several attendees about the prospect of a cinema in the city centre, the council said that the New Vic Action Group’s efforts to reclaim the building contained “no viable business plan”.
The public element of the listening week continues between 11am and 3pm at the following places:
– Wednesday 11 January: Preston Bus Station
– Thursday 12 January: Guildhall Arcade
– Friday 13 January: Preston Market
– Saturday 14 January: St George’s Shopping Centre