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Opinion: To list or not to list Preston Bus Station, that is the question

Posted on - 14th July, 2013 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Preston Bus Station
Preston Bus Station's future hangs in the balance once more

Preston Bus Station’s future hangs in the balance once more

It looks like there’s still hope for Preston’s beleaguered bus station, after Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey agreed with English Heritage’s recommendations, and gave grade II listed status to Metro Central Heights in the London Borough of Southwark.

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The high-rise complex, formerly called Alexander Fleming House, was designed in the early sixties by Hungarian born architect Erno Goldfinger (In case you’re wondering; yes, Ian Fleming did name a Bond baddie after him following a spat between the two). For many years the building was occupied by the Department of Health, and ironically, it suffered from ‘sick building syndrome’ leading to its abandonment by the civil service in the early 1990’s.

Threatened with demolition, the modernist complex was eventually bought by property developers St. George Plc and redeveloped for residential use, housing 400 apartments which have proved popular with young urban professionals and has earned it the nickname of ‘Metrosexual Heights’.

Ed Vaizey’s decision to list the complex was taken after English Heritage described it as “an excellent example of high-calibre post-war architecture” and “an accomplished building, which has proved highly influential for designs that followed”.

English Heritage is also recommending that listed status be given to Preston’s own icon of post-war modernism which has failed to make the grade on its last two applications. That said, Goldfinger’s complex was first put forward for listing 25 years ago, so the bus stations supporters may have to be patient for a little while longer! We’re told that the bus station’s listing application is sitting on Ed Vaizey’s desk as we speak, and a decision is due imminently. The previous listing applications were turned down as the building was earmarked for demolition as part of the Tithebarn development which has since been abandoned.

Just like Preston Bus Station, Goldfinger’s modernist masterpiece has suffered from a love / hate relationship with the locals, but following its listing, I suspect a wind of change is blowing through the corridors of power and post-war modernist architecture is on the cusp of being recognised and appreciated as an important element of our architectural heritage.

UCLan’s architecture department was recently renamed in honour of Preston’s own architectural superstar, Sir George Grenfell-Baines, a contemporary of Erno Goldfinger, who founded the BDP architectural practice that designed the bus station, and continues to this day as a multi-disciplinary practice based in Manchester with an international portfolio of clients and projects.

In a recent poll to find BDP’s most popular buildings, Preston’s Bus Station narrowly missed the top spot coming second in a field of 52 nominations and it was also voted Preston’s most popular building in a Lancashire Evening Post poll of locals. Just last night, at The Harris Museum, RIBA’s soon to be President, Stephen Hodder, stressed how important it is that the building be saved and he called on architects to lobby English Heritage in support of its current listing application.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the bus station’s owners, Preston City Council, have seriously misjudged the public mood with its demolition plans, and its disastrous infatuation with the Tithebarn debacle has left a bitter taste in the collective mouth of Prestonians and architecture fans alike.

Should Preston Bus Station follow the footsteps of Metro Central Heights and get protected status? The listing process requires that post-war buildings must show significant architectural interest and should be exceptional examples of their type; it would appear that Preston Bus Station seems to tick all the right boxes, and as such, is no less worthy than Goldfinger’s creation. So come on Ed Vaizey, let’s stop beating about the bush, and let’s have a decision one way or another.

What do you think? Should Preston Bus Station be listed or not? Let us know in the comments below

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