A scaled down version of the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ played out in Preston’s Continental pub on South Meadow Lane last night. The ‘RIP Preston Bus Station’ event was hosted by ‘The Preston Social’ which is the brainchild of digital marketing and PR company 3ManFactory with support from They Eat Culture.
They hold regular get-togethers for academics, business owners, students and Tweeters where everyone can have their say on topical issues of the day. Last night’s event was fully booked leaving standing room only for latecomers.
With TMF’s Nathaniel Cassidy taking on the role of David Dimbleby, he introduced the panel of five speakers who were preparing to be grilled by the assembled audience. The panel included Liberal Councillor John Potter, Lancashire Evening Post reporter David Coates, Sally Stone from the Manchester School of Architecture, Jenni Barrett Lecturer in architecture at UCLan and long time bus station campaigner John Wilson.
In a slight departure from the ‘Question Time’ format, each panellist was given a couple of minutes to address the audience with their own take on the controversial demolition decision taken by the city council last December.
Unsurprisingly, John Potter defended the council’s actions saying their hands were tied by budgetary constraints imposed on them by the coalition government and if we are to keep the bus station then huge cuts in public services would need to be the order of the day.
David Coates adopted a reporter’s stance sitting firmly on the fence while admitting that the bus station debate was the hottest topic in town which has been generating a wealth of polarised opinion from the bus station’s supporters, and its detractors alike. The remaining panellists, Sally Stone, Jenni Barrett and John Wilson pointed out the many reasons why the building should be saved from the bulldozers citing its architectural significance and arguing for its redevelopment rather than its demolition.
Following the panellist’s opening statements the debate was thrown open to the audience and all those listening in via social networking sites. The panellists fielded a hectic round of questions covering every aspect of the divisive subject, and at one point, the chair was forced to intervene when the debate became overheated by disagreements over the projected costs of redevelopment as opposed to demolition.
As calm once more descended on proceedings, the panel answered questions on the failed Tithebarn project, the lack of an overall strategy for the city centre, the importance of the bus station as a cultural and municipal landmark and the neglected condition of the Modernist ‘Icon’. The refusal of Lancashire County Council to invest in any future redevelopment of the existing building was also hotly debated, and it was interesting to note that, despite an invitation, there was no spokesperson on the panel from LCC! Due to the large number of questions, the event was forced to go into extra time and I suspect that many of the participants would’ve been only too happy to continue the debate on into the small hours!
All in all, the well attended event proved to be lively and informative with a good mix of opinions both for and against the retention of the bus station. Judging by the many reactions in the room, and via the internet, this red hot topic is set to continue to burn brightly on the streets of Preston and beyond.