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Pause for thought before sending in the bulldozers on Preston Bus Station

Posted on - 11th December, 2012 - 9:44pm | Author - | Posted in - Campaigns, Opinion, Preston Bus Station

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A heartfelt plea about the proposed demolition of Preston Bus Station from Prestonian Bernie Blackburn

With Preston City Council set to rubber stamp their decision to demolish our bus station, the argument over its future, or not, is certainly heating up. There’s no doubt that the Modernist monolith suffers from ‘Marmite syndrome’, we either love it or loathe it! Its supporters will tell you of its architectural merit and iconic status, while its detractors describe it as a stinking blot on the Preston Cityscape that needs to be swept away. Whatever the outcome, one thing’s for sure, the time for prevaricating has past, and a decision one way or another is well overdue.

As a photographer and a graduate in Design, nobody will be surprised to learn that I am an ardent fan of the building. I find the thought of it being demolished is pretty outrageous and I’d like to remind everybody that it wasn’t always the eyesore it’s become in recent years.

I can clearly remember when I first saw the bus station as a six year old, some forty odd years ago. I was sitting upstairs at the front of a double decker pretending I was driving – like you do! As the bus turned into the bus station from Ringway, a vision of futuristic wonder unfolded before me like a scene from a science fiction film I must have seen at Saturday morning pictures! The space age design and colossal proportions left me well and truly awestruck.

I instantly loved everything about it, the snaking access ramps funnelling the traffic over our heads, the curved repetition of the parking decks like rows of breaking waves and the needle like lamp posts that seemed to disappear into the clouds. The taxi rank had a breathtaking pinnacle with a neon sign on top and the subterranean corridors were a joy to run through listening to the sound of your footsteps bouncing off the walls. Who knows why this particular building should’ve had such a profound effect on me? It just did!

Forty years on, I can still picture the scene on that day and hear my Dad telling me of its claim to fame, that it was the biggest bus station in Europe. Not that I had any idea where Europe was, but it sounded impressive anyway. Since then I’ve past through the bus station countless times and I still find myself pausing to appreciate its cathedral like qualities and to lament its current state of dilapidation.

Earlier this year I went along to photograph the BBC’s Preston Passion and as a backdrop to proceedings the bus station looked superb, reminding me of its glory days when it wasn’t a place to be avoided. To me, it’s every bit as iconic as The Harris Museum; it’s just iconic of a different era.

While many of its modernist counterparts have been raised to the ground due to poor build quality and bad management, the bus station continues to serve the people of Preston despite an appalling lack of maintenance. It’s a victim of poor decision making rather than any failure of its fabric, it’s been neglected for quite some time now and it shows. The addition of a fearsome perimeter fence a couple of years ago didn’t exactly enhance its aesthetic appeal either!

The City Council are certainly guilty of putting all their eggs in the ‘Tithebarn’ basket and now the bottom of that basket has well and truly fallen out, it seems they want to wash their hands of the whole thing. What kind of strategy is that? Both the bus station and the indoor market have become victims of the Tithebarn ‘promise’ and the Council’s faith in that particular pipe dream has seriously back fired leaving us all with this dilemma.

It seems to me that when it comes to important decisions on landmark buildings, it’s the people of Preston who should decide on the best way forward as it is all of us who will have to live with the consequences.

In an ideal world the bus station would be overhauled making it fit for the 21st Century, but as we all know, we live in hard economic times and with budget cuts here, there and everywhere, it’s difficult to imagine where the money for any scheme is going to come from! Have you seen the price of new bus stations? And, on the whole, they’re pretty soulless affairs compared to what we’ve got already.

It seems common sense to me that it should be cheaper to revamp the existing building than to tear it down and replace it with something else, which by the way, hasn’t yet left the drawing board! The demolition option seems somewhat premature when so little effort has been put into exploring alternatives that could give it a new lease of life and make it worth being proud of once again.

Like it or loathe it, it’s recognised in architectural and academic circles as an icon of Brutalism and a unique example of Modernist architecture. Its treatment over the last ten years could well be described as being brutal and sending in the bulldozers would be nothing short of civic vandalism. If The Harris Museum had been treated in a similar way it would have been demolished back in the 1940’s after just forty odd year’s service! I suspect that the decision to demolish will be approved on the 17th of this month and only a substantial outpouring of people power will be able to avert an architectural calamity that future generations will judge us on.

Call me sentimental, but I for one would be sorry to witness its demise and I suspect there are many Prestonians out there who feel the same way. When completed in 1969 the bus station was heralded as a ground breaking structure and a marvel of the modern age, it still is, it just needs looking after!

Well, are you one of the many Prestonians Bernie mentions who will be sad to see the bus station go? let us know in the comments below

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