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Opinion: Where do we go from here for Preston’s listed bus station?

Posted on - 25th September, 2013 - 7:31pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Preston Bus Station, Preston City Centre
Stamp of approval: The Bus Station is now grade II listed

Stamp of approval: The Bus Station is now grade II listed

Well, well, well, what a week it’s been! (and it’s only Wednesday)

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The latest episode in Preston’s long running bus station saga unfolded creating a storm of local and national reaction.

After weeks of speculation, the long awaited decision by Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey landed on Preston like the proverbial bombshell.

The city’s landmark modernist bus station is now a grade II listed building. English Heritage had recommended that the building be granted listed status describing it as a ‘dramatic building which combines innovation with architectural panache’. That’s probably the first time I’ve ever heard the word ‘panache’ used in connection with Preston.

The official announcement sparked an avalanche of comments on social media sites, from the jubilant to the outraged and everything in between. As ever, the building is so divisive that I’m beginning to suspect that workmen in the late sixties added Marmite to the concrete mix. Love it or loathe it, it’s now officially recognised as an exceptional example of its type.

The buildings owners, Preston City Council were said to be disappointed at the outcome and during interviews following the announcement, council leader Peter Rankin remained tight-lipped about what their next move might be. I suspect they’ll need a little time to get their heads together and decide whether to push ahead with their demolition plans or to do a complete u-turn and explore refurbishment options.

Interestingly, local businessman Simon Rigby made a rare appearance in front of the cameras to state that his previous offer, rejected by the council earlier this year, to take control of and to invest in the bus station was still on the table. He also called on all interested parties to pull together to forge a viable plan for the buildings future as part of a regenerated city centre.

Veteran bus station campaigner John Wilson was understandably upbeat following the listing announcement but sounded a note of caution saying this was only one step towards saving the building and he too called for joined up thinking from Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council and the community as a whole.

So where do we go from here? I can sympathise with the council who are struggling to balance the books with budgets being slashed left, right and centre, but much of the current situation is a direct result of the failed Tithebarn scheme.

While uncertainty about the Tithebarn project rumbled on the bus station was neglected, and now the building is in serious need of a revamp. Estimates for improvements differ wildly from a reasonable sounding £5 million to an eye watering £23 million according to its council owners! Whatever the cost, one thing’s for sure; it’s not going to get cheaper the longer we leave it!

It does beg the question; who should pay? If buildings are deemed to be of national importance, who should foot the bill for their upkeep? Should the burden fall on the locals or should other funding be available? I hear the Heritage Lottery Fund has a few quid tucked away? Perhaps they’d like to invest.

Divided future: The bus station looks set to continue on in public ownership

Divided future: The bus station looks set to continue on in public ownership

Together with LCC’s £8.3 million nest egg that’s earmarked to pay for a new bus station, who knows, we might actually end up with a refurbished building that Preston can be proud of. I find it difficult to believe that we don’t have enough ambition, talent and creativity locally to transform a down-at-heel building into something suitably spectacular.

If the council choose to contest the listing or apply to demolish a listed building, I worry that yet more scarce resources will be wasted with nothing to show for it. I’m inclined to agree with those who say it’s time to appreciate the building for what it is and work together to reinvigorate the city centre as a whole leaving Preston’s newly recognised bus station intact!

While this incredibly protracted situation rolls on and on and on the city centre remains in limbo stifling redevelopment and investment. After a dozen years of wrangling, Preston’s reputation is being damaged and we’re in very real danger of becoming a laughing stock. I for one feel that a conclusion to this issue is well overdue and dragging it out any further will only make matters worse.

Ed Vaizey’s decision to list the bus station, while welcomed by the buildings supporters, may only prove to be a stay of execution and the endgame to this long running architectural soap could be some way off yet. Cue the adverts!

What do you think should happen with the Bus Station? Should the council go after demolition? Should they invest? Let us know in the comments below whether you agree with Bernie…

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